YUKA Saso followed up an opening 65 with an eagle-spiked 67 to clinch medal honors after the 36-hole stroke play elims and get the top seeding in the match play phase of the US Girls’ Junior Championship at SentryWorld in Stevens Point in Wisconsin.
Saso, 18, remained hot after her seven-birdie binge on Monday as she eagled the par-5 No. 14, birdied the 17th then took two more strokes on Nos. 3 and 5 to finish with a 34-33 for a 12-under 132, five ahead of Aussie Maddison Hinson-Tolchard.
The reigning Asian Games gold medalist, who has won a couple of pro titles on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour, also emerged as the only player to go bogey-free in the 36-hole stroke play elims.
As the No. 1 seed, Saso will take on either Ainsley Cowart of Georgia or Kayle Sakoda of California, who will be disputing the last and No. 64 slot in a playoff early Wednesday.
“I really don’t play in match play except at USGA Championships,” said Saso. “So, to be honest, I’m a little nervous. But I’m trying to prepare and set myself up well.”
“I’m definitely happy,” added the ICTSI-backed Saso, who is coming off a big victory in the Girls Juniior PGA Championship in Connecticut last week. “My goal over the first two days was to get into match play, so it feels good to accomplish that.”
Hinson-Tolchard matched Saso’s opening 65 to finish No. 2 with a 137 with Sophia Bae of the US ending up third with a 139 after a 71 followed by Korean YoonMin Han (69-141), Jillian Bourdage of the US (72-141), American Sabrian Iqbal (72-142), Chian’s Lei Ye (74-142), Korean Bohyun Park (69-143), and Americans Erica Shepherd (69-143), Erica Smith (72-143) and Briana Chacon (74-143).
Saso’s five-stroke margin of victory in stroke play also matched the largest in the championship since 2000 with the biggest at seven shared by Beth Bauer in 1997, Lauren Howe in 1976 and Kathleen Ahern in 1966.
Her 36-hole feat also stood as the third best in the annual event. Taylore Karle assembled a 130 in topping the qualifiers in 2005 at BanBury Golf Course in Eagle, Idaho while Lucy Li pooled a 131 at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, California last year.