SAN DIEGO, California - Yuka Saso completed another solid round with back-to-back birdies for a three-under-par 69 and a four-shot lead in the 15-18 years division, even as Rianne Malixi moved within a shot of the girls 9-10 years leader in the second round of the IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championships on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) here.
Malixi put herself in contention with a four-under-par 68 at Sycuan Oak Glen, gunning down birdies on four of her first five holes. With a 142 total, the 10-year-old Filipina is expected to crowd Canada’s Michelle Liu, who shot a 69-141, for the crown in the final round.
Unlike Malixi, the 16-year-old Saso will have two more days to work on a junior world title that seemed in the bag when the Fil-Japanese held a four-stroke lead in the final round last year only to throw it away and eventually settled for third.
Two days of solid play at Torrey Pines North put Saso on the right track again.
Opening her bid with a six-under 66, Saso kept her rivals at bay with steady iron play that saw her hit 13 greens in regulation. She was carrying just a one under card after her second bogey for the day on the seventh, when she rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the seventh, her 17th hole, before chipping to within gimme distance on her last hole for her fifth birdie.
“I’m very happy with the way I’m playing but I need to keep my focus. Last year’s experience proves that it’s easy to lose a big lead and it’s important for me to just keep grinding until the very last hole,” said Saso, who is set to compete in two major USGA events after the Junior World.
Conditions in the afternoon were a lot tougher, but Saso showed her game was ready for the strong winds and faster greens.
Aside from Saso and Malixi, only Eagle Ace Superal managed to find her way into the top 10 of the 43 players sent to the event by the Junior Golf Foundation of the Philippines.
Superal tied for seventh in the girls 11-12 with her 71-144, but was seven strokes behind Yui Mori of Japan who carded a 67-137.
Sean Granada was the best performer among the boys bets, carding a 71-143 to move up to a share of 17th.