Saso face-to-face with Japanese ace

Dante Navarro (The Philippine Star) – November 3, 2020 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — More than going all-out for redemption following an LPGA of Japan Tour misfortune of missing the cut for the first time, rookie Yuka Saso must be bracing for a possible face-off with world No. 6 Nasa Hataoka in the Toto Japan Classic which fires off Friday in Ibaraki.

The 21-year-old Hataoka skipped the last LPGA Tour event – the Drive On Championship – in Georgia two weeks ago to get ready for JLPGA’s third major. After undergoing mandatory quarantine, she is set to reacquaint herself with fellow Japanese campaigners and reclaim the crown she won by two over Momoko Ueda in 2018.

Hataoka will go into the Y160 million event as the prohibitive favorite following four top 10 finishes in the LPGA Tour. She had a joint third-place finish in the circuit’s third major, the Women’s PGA Championship, where she closed out with a solid 64 that included an eagle and four birdies and still fell short by seven to Korean world No. 1 Sei Young Kim.

But she is expected to dominate this weekend although Hataoka will be up against a souped-up stellar cast that includes the ICTSI-backed Saso and 2019 British Women’s Open champion Hinako Shibuno, Ueda, defending champion and world No. 17 Ai Suzuki, and current JLPGA Player of the Year derby leader Sakura Koiwai.

Rookie Yuna Nishimura, who rallied from six down to beat Minami Katsu by one in last weekend’s Hisako Higuchi Mitsubishi Electric Ladies, is also tipped to contend for the crown, along with leg winners Ayaka Watanabe, Saki Nagamine, Ayaka Furue, Erika Hara, Mone Inami and Shin Jie.

Saso, the money race leader, and Shibuno, the world No. 15, failed to advance last week.

That should make the 54-hole championship worth watching with Saso itching to rebound from her poor performance that ended nine consecutive cuts made in the region’s premier ladies circuit, a stint highlighted by two victories and three other Top 10 finishes.

The NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies champion struggled big-time on the rolling Musashigaoka Golf Course in Hanno City.

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