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Yuka Saso wins the US Women’s Open again. This one was for Japan


AP
Yuka Saso of Japan waves to the crowd after winning the US Women’s Open golf tournament at Lancaster Country Club, Sunday, June 2, 2024, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Yuka Saso became US Women’s Open champion for the second time on Sunday, taking her place in history with a rare footnote – the first Filipina to win the Women’s Open in 2021, and now the first from Japan to win the largest event for women’s golf.

Regardless of the flag, the 22-year-old Saso turned in a masterful performance at Lancaster Country Club with a 2-under 68. She hit four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine amid a series of collapses and won without much drama.

Saso went up and down for par from the 18th green to finish at 4-under 276, winning by three shots over Hinako Shibuno, who in 2019 became the first Japanese player to capture the Women’s British Open.

They were the only two players under par, the fewest for the Women’s Open in a decade. Saso’s only other LPGA Tour win was the Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in 2021. She also has two titles on the Japanese LPGA.

Andrea Lee, who was part of a three-way lead tie at the start of this wild day, was the last player to get the chance to catch Saso. But the Stanford alum, a former No. 1 amateur, badly missed her tee shot on the easy 16th and had to settle for par, before taking bogey on the 17th. Lee took one final bogey on the 18th for a 75 and finished tied for third with Ally Ewing (66).

Saso has said she would like to play for two flags: her mother is from the Philippines, her father from Japan. She decided to change citizenship before she turned 21, and Saso ultimately led a strong performance by Japan – five players in the top 10.

Saso won $2.4 million from the $12 million purse, the largest in women’s golf and in women’s sports at a standalone venue.

The win also put Saso in a position to return to the Olympics; she played for the Philippines in the 2021 Tokyo Games.

As much as Saso shined, Sunday was filled with meltdowns. The final two groups combined for 22 over par, none more shocking than Minjee Lee.

Minjee Lee, a two-time champion who captured the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago, led by three shots on the front nine. She was still in control until she put her tee shot in the water at the par-3 12th and took a double bogey to move level with Saso.

She hit the waist-high grass for another double bogey two holes later and closed with a 78.

Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai, the outsider among the leaders with no LPGA wins and No. 158 in the world rankings, bowed out early and took a triple bogey on the par-3 sixth. She shot 77.

Saso was not immune to mistakes. She had a four-putt double bogey on the par-3 sixth, leaving her four shots behind Minjee Lee. That was the last of the mistakes that mattered.

Her big run started with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 12th, followed by a wedge to 10 feet on the par-5 13th hole. She hit her approach to six feet on the 15th hole and then delivered the winner, a 3-wood to 20 feet on the reachable par-4 16th for a two-putt birdie.

She three-putted the par-3 17th, but there was room for error. Saso was in the scoring room when it became official, and every player stopped by to share a hug.

Saso is the second woman to win a major under two flags. Sally Little won the 1980 LPGA Championship for South Africa and then won the 1988 du Maurier Classic as a U.S. citizen.

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