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Yuka Saso survives brutal start to US Women’s Open that took Korda to an 80

Yuka Saso of Japan hits from the fairway on the ninth hole during the first round of the US Women’s Open golf tournament at Lancaster Country Club, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Former champion Yuka Saso leaned on her putter to survive a brutally difficult start to the U.S. Women’s Open on Thursday, an opening round in which Nelly Korda shot a 10 on her third hole and only four players barely beat par.

Saso had three big par putts to start the back nine at Lancaster Country Club, rolled in two mid-range birdie putts near the end of her round and finished with three putts from the collar of the 18th green for bogey and a 2- under 68 .

It felt even lower considering all the carnage around her. The top ten players in the women’s world rankings had an average score of 75.5 – including Korda’s 80 – and only two-time major champion Minjee Lee was not above par.

‘It’s a US Open. It’s a major. It is the biggest major championship and I think it is one of the most difficult weeks we will play,” Saso said. “I don’t tell myself to be confident or anything like that.”

Saso, who used Lexi Thompson’s meltdown to win the Women’s Open at Olympic Club in 2021, led by one shot over Andrea Lee, Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai and recently crowned NCAA champion Adela Cernousek of France.

Cernousek, a junior at Texas A&M, had company among amateurs. Three of them were in the group at an even-par 70: U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Megan Schofill, Catherine Park and 15-year-old Asterisk Talley, who is earning her first USGA title at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-ball Championship.

Lee, who earned her second major at the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago, holed out from 15 feet just off the green on the par-3 17th to get back on level terms.

“Just come back and try to beat the course again,” she said.

The rest of the LPGA Tour’s biggest stars took a beating, none as bad or as shocking as Korda. Korda, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, arrived in Lancaster having won six of her last seven tournaments. Three holes into her opening round, she was sent reeling.

Korda hit from a back bunker into a stream on the par-3 12th hole and then threw twice into the stream from the other side on her way to a 10. She added four bogeys over the next 15 holes for an 80. corresponding to her highest round as a professional.

“Not a lot of positive thoughts, to be honest,” Korda said. “I just didn’t play well today. I didn’t get it right. I was often in trouble. Getting a 10 on a par 3 will definitely not do you any good at a US Open.

“Yes,” she concluded, “just a bad day at the office.”

For many others it was a bad day. Rose Zhang, who ended Korda’s five-tournament winning streak three weeks ago in New Jersey, appeared shocked as she walked off the 18th green with another three-putt bogey and a 79.

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson each shot 80. The average score for the field was 75.2.

The wind was swirling at some of the higher points of the course and the greens were firm and springy, just the way the USGA likes them. The 156-player field produced just over 900 bogey scores or worse – in Korda’s case, a seven-fold bogey.

Thompson, playing in what is likely her last U.S. Women’s Open after announcing she will no longer play a full schedule after this year, started her back nine by going from bunker to bunker to bunker to big rough and taking triple bogey. She shot 78.

Saso took 5.7 shots from the field with her putter to move her into the lead.

“I made really good putts. I think I was more lucky than playing well,” Saso said.

She has a shot at a special piece of victory this week if she were to win and become the only Women’s Open champion to play under two flags.

Saso won as a Filipina at the Olympic Club and the following year – before she turned 21 – she declared her citizenship as Japanese (her father is Japanese). A big week could also put her in a position to return to the Olympics under a different flag.

That feels like a long way off, especially after such a hard day’s work.

“There’s still so much golf left,” Saso said. “The golf course is very difficult and the conditions are very tough, especially when the wind is swirling and when it is blowing 15 miles per hour, with the greens being firm and fast.”

It didn’t seem to hurt the amateur, especially Cernousek. She dropped just two shots, one of them on a three-putt from 40 feet on the 14th hole, and held her nerve to break par. She was amazed to see her name on every scoreboard.

“I thought, ‘Wow!’ I looked at every leaderboard on the track,” she said.

Talley is one of two 15-year-olds on the field at Lancaster and played well beyond her age with smart decisions when she got out of position. Her only blunder came on the par-5 seventh hole, when she shot her second shot only about 50 yards out from the thick rough, put it down and then deposited it in the water in front of the green. She made a triple bogey.

But Talley – her mother says Asterisk is Greek for ‘Little Star’ – followed with a nine-hole stretch of three birdies and six par, not dropping another shot until the 17th,

“I feel like I could have done a lot better today, but I’m not upset about my lap at all,” Talley said. “I heard that everyone did a good lap today. I wish I had been a few underachievers.”



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