Saso yields Player of the Year lead as Furue triumphs again
MANILA, Philippines — Yuka Saso missed hitting Y100 million in earnings in record fashion as she succumbed to an in-form Ayaka Furue in the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open final, imperilling even her bid for the Player of the Year honors that had once appeared to be hers with two tournaments left in the LPGA of Japan Tour.
But Furue had other things in mind.
Picking up from where she left off at the Itoen Ladies which she ruled last week, the 20-year-old rookie from Hyogo dominated like no other with a daunting start then cruised to a three-stroke victory over Korean Lee Min-Young despite a last-hole bogey for a 69 and a 15-under 269.
Lee snared runner-up honors at 272 with one of the day’s best 66s at the Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama as Saso, just two down after 54 holes, hobbled with a three-putt miscue on the first hole and never recovered. The Fil-Japanese hit two birdies but made another bogey and dropped two strokes on the par-4 No. 7 to finish with a 73 for joint third at 275 with Kikuchi Erika, who carded a 70.
That early Saso stumble enabled Furue to pull away by six after 10 holes before Lee made a late charge in a flight ahead and closed out with three birdies in the last six holes to secure second place.
“She (Furue) is amazing and tough,” said Saso of her fellow rookie.
The victory, which came after she nipped Miki Sakai on the third playoff hole in Chiba, netted Furue Y18 million, which had Saso won would’ve made her the first player to reach the Y100 million mark in just 13 tournaments, two of which she had won.
With the win, Furue gained 300 ranking points as she dislodged Saso from the top of the Player of the Year derby with 1,131.78 points.
The ICTSI-backed ace slipped to second with 1,048.85 points although her Y6.5 million in earnings kept her in the money race lead with a total of Y89,253,170 with Furue now at second with an accumulated winnings of Y73,102,992.
That makes the last JLPGA event – the circuit’s final major, the Tour Championship Ricoh Cup starting Thursday, so crucial in the duo’s spirited chase for the coveted crown. The deciding event will be held down south at the Miyazaki Country Club in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu Island.
After a bogey-free 64 to take charge Saturday, Furue kept her amazing run of form into the first nine holes of the final round, posting a two-under 33 on birdies on Nos. 2, 6 and 9 against a bogey on the seventh then birdied the 10th for good measure.
In contrast, Saso struggled trying to recover from that ego-deflating bogey on the opening hole where after a solid drive into the middle of the fairway, approached too way short of the cup then putted short of 10 feet which she muffed when the ball veered to the right of the cup.
She did birdie the sixth but yielded two strokes on the par-4 seventh to virtually kiss her record bid goodbye.