Yuka Saso of Japan plays her shot from the 13th tee during the first round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 20, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (AFP)

Yuka Saso, now carrying the Japanese flag, missed securing a share of the lead with a bogey on the 18th but overall, her opening round to a new LPGA season was impressive.

The reigning US Women’s Open titlist rode on an eagle-2 on the 14th to produce a four-under 68 and trail fast-starting Mexican Gaby Lopez by one in her Tournament of Champions debut in Florida Thursday.

Her start was not even a perfect one after bogeying the second hole but the Fil-Japanese ace refused to be intimidated and went on to score a pair of back-to-back birdies on the 4th and 5th and also on 7th and 8th that cushioned the impact of her bogeys on 6th and 9th holes.

Thanks to a superb 60-yard, hole-out eagle on the par-4 14th, Saso made her title bid in motion as she also birdied the next two holes.

Her victory in the US Women’s Open that produced several milestones was her ticket to the $1.5 million event.

“That eagle, that was unexpected, but I hit a good shot. Landed probably a foot left of the hole and spun back and went in. I was surprised, but that was really good,” said the ICTSI-backed Saso who was obviously excited to play in the 29-player field.

She actually tied Lopez for the lead with her last back-to-back birdies but her last-hole mishap dropped her to a share of second with world No. 1 Nelly Korda and fellow Americans Danielle Kang and Ryann O’Toole.

Defending champion Jessica Korda also bogeyed the 18th and blew the chance to draw level with Saso and company. She was eventually tied by Brooke Henderson of Canada and Thai Pajaree Anannarukarn.

Only the winners in the LPGA the last two years were invited to play in the rich event. (REY C. LACHICA)

Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2022/01/21/yuka-saso-off-to-strong-start-in-tournament-of-champions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yuka-saso-off-to-strong-start-in-tournament-of-champions)