Saso to get feel of LPGA as Hataoka joins chase

Dante Navarro ( – November 2, 2020 – 1:32pm

MANILA, Philippines – More than going all-out for redemption following an LPGA of Japan Tour misfortune where she missed the cut for the first time, rookie Yuka Saso must also 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, including the mandatory quarantine, not only to reacquaint herself with her fellow Japanese campaigners but also reclaim the crown she won by two over Momoko Ueda in 2018.

Hataoka will be coming into the Y160 million event as the prohibitive favorite what with four top 10 finishes in the LPGA Tour, including a joint third place effort 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 golf tournament where Saso, the money race leader, and Shibuno, the world No. 15, failed to advance, 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.

That should make the 54-hole championship worth watching with Saso itching to rebound from her poor performance that ended her nine consecutive cuts made in the region’s premier ladies circuit 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 where she missed 16 greens in two days and ended up with an average of 30 putts. Worse, she groped with her wedge shots, making bogeys in five times that she visited the greenside bunkers.

But Saso hopes to do better at the Taiheiyo Club Minori 6554-yard course, a relative flat layout, which hosted an LPGA Tour event in 2016 and where challenges vary from one hole to another, for a plausible crack at a third leg victory, a first major and the top Y24 million purse (P11.1 million).

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