Saso cruises to 3-shot LPGT romp

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Amateur Yuka Saso bucked the wind and a wobbly backside start with a blazing windup, saving an eagle-spiked 72 and cruising to a three-stroke victory over Korean Kang Ji-won as Princess Superal crumbled in the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Ladies Invitational at Eagle Ridge’s Aoki course in Gen. Trias, Cavite on Friday.

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As her pro rivals hardly recovered from poor starts and Superal wavered at the finish on a wind-raked day, Saso bounced back from a bogey-par-bogey-double bogey miscue from No. 11 with clutch birdies on Nos. 15 and 17, turning what had appeared to be a wild finish into a runaway victory.

“I lost my focus at the back but was lucky to have recovered,” said Saso, who seized control early with a 67, dropped into a lead share with a charging Siriprakob in the second round and won by three with a 54-hole aggregate of five-under 211.

“I was pretty confident with my game and my chances and I really wanted to win this coming off a victory in the national match play,” said the 14-year-old home study program student from Harvard School of Laguna who dominated the junior event at Alabang last week.

She thus became the second amateur to win on this year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. after absentee Bernice Olivarez Ilas reigned at Beverly Place Classic two weeks ago.

A tight finish loomed after Superal, in a flight ahead, tied Saso at two-under overall with a third straight birdie on the par-5 15th. But the Fil-Japanese chipped in for birdie on her turn to regain a one-stroke lead then added another birdie on the 17th to anchor her roaring triumph.

Kang fell by as many as seven but pulled to within two with an eagle on No. 15, only to settle for pars on the last three holes for a 71. With a 214 total, the Korean placed second overall but took the top purse of P100,000 as the top pro in the fourth leg of the circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

Just one down with three holes to play, Superal lost her bid for a fourth pro crown with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 in a rare late meltdown by the top The Country Club bet whose stretch-run brilliance has marked her previous wins here and abroad. She ended up with a second straight 73.

Thai Chatprapa Siriprakob, whose impressive 69 netted her a share of the lead Thursday, never recovered from a wind-blown 40 start and wound up with a 76 to tie Superal, who won at Wack Wack last year, at third at 215. She, however, took the P70,000 runner-up prize in the event backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Sharp, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Champion, TaylorMade and Pacsports.

Storming ahead by five over her nearest pursuer with an eagle on the par-5 seventh for a 34 going out, Saso fumbled with a bogey on No. 11 and had tried to recover the stroke she lost on No. 13 by cutting the dog-leg left par-4 No. 14. But drove into the hazard instead, overshot the green on her third shot and reached the green in four and two-putted for 6.

That enabled Superal to move within one before drawing level with a birdie on No. 15, which Saso matched minutes later to stay on top then hit another birdie on the 17th from close range and coast to the victory as Superal bogeyed two of the last three.

Another amateur Hwang Min-jeong, who toppled Superal and Cyna Rodriguez at Mt. Malarayat last year, carded a 73 to finish solo fifth at 216 while Thai Supakchaya Pattarankrueang skied to a 76 after a 70 and 71 and tumbled down to sixth at 217 worth P45,000.

Pauline del Rosario, the other Team TCC mainstay who showed a lot of promise by matching Superal and Hwang’s opening 69s, hardly rebounded from a second round 78 with a 73 to end up seventh at 220 while last year’s Sherwood leg champion Sarah Ababa limped with a 77 for a 221.

Chihiro Ikeda turned in a 73 to tie former leg winner Jayvie Agojo and Lovelyn Guioguio, who shot 76 and 78, respectively, at 224.

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