Al-Khaleej win their first Elite Handball Cup

Yuka Saso wins the US Women’s Open again. This time for Japan, after the Philippines

LANCASTER, Pa.: The first Filipina to win the U.S. Women’s Open and now the first from Japan, Yuka Saso’s favorite part was sharing the biggest prize in her sport with the countries of both her parents.

Saso delivered a masterpiece on the back nine at the challenging Lancaster Country Club on Sunday while many of her competitors collapsed. She finished with a 2-under 68 – the four players in the final two groups combined to finish 22 over par – to win by three strokes.

And then, as she received the trophy—the silver Semple trophy is engraved with only the names of the 79 winners, not their countries—she had to hold back her tears as she remembered the caring and supportive nature of her Filipino mother and Japanese father.

She won in 2021 at the Olympic Club under the flag of the Philippines. Three years later, she won in Lancaster under the flag of Japan. She couldn’t be prouder of either.

“When I won in 2021, I represented the Philippines. I feel like I was able to give something back to my mother,” Saso said. “This year, I was able to represent Japan and I think I was able to give something back to my father. I’m very happy that I was able to do that.”

“It’s just a wonderful feeling that I was able to give something back to my parents in the same way.”

Only the flag changed. The 22-year-old Saso was just as rock-solid down the home stretch as she was at the Olympic Club, where she made two late birdies to move into a playoff that she won against Nasa Hataoka.

This time, she made four birdies over five holes on the back nine, with a series of crucial moments on tee shots and putts, wedges and long irons – everything that golf’s toughest test demands. And no one could catch her.

Saso made a par before the 18th green and finished at 4 under par (276 strokes), winning by three strokes over Hinako Shibuno, who became the first Japanese player to win the Women’s British Open in 2019.

They were the only two players under par, the lowest number at the Women’s Open in ten years.

Saso, who had already won two titles on the Japanese LPGA before her time in the USA, is the only player alongside Se Ri Pak and In Gee Chun whose first two LPGA victories came at major championships.

It was also her first win since the Olympic Club, a victory so surprising that she said she wasn’t ready for the limelight. She handled everything Lancaster and the Women’s Open threw at her.

“I really wanted it too – not just to get a second win, but also to prove something to myself,” said Saso. “I haven’t won in three years. I definitely had a little doubt whether I could win again or not. But yeah, I think those experiences helped me a lot and I think I was able to prove a little bit to myself.”

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

Saso won $2.4 million of the $12 million purse, the most in women’s golf and in all of women’s sports at a single venue.

The win also gave Saso a chance to compete in the Olympics – she played for the Philippines at the 2021 Tokyo Games, finishing ninth. She had to decide which country she wanted to represent before her 21st birthday, and she chose Japan.

She led a strong performance by Japan in Lancaster – five players in the top 10. Saso and Shibuno were the first Japanese players to finish 1st and 2nd at a major.

As much as Saso shone, Sunday was full of breakdowns. None were more shocking than Minjee Lee, a two-time major winner who won the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago.

Minjee Lee led by three shots entering the sixth hole. She missed a couple of birdie opportunities and made two bogeys before turning the corner, but still kept control. And then her tee shot on the par-3 12th – the same hole where Nelly Korda made a 10 in the opening round – was too short and rolled back into the water. She made double bogey, tying with Saso.

Saso took the lead for good with a birdie on the 13th hole with a 3-foot wedge. Minjee Lee drove into waist-high grass on the 14th hole, had to accept a penalty drop and made another double bogey. She finished with a 78.

“I only missed a few putts for a birdie at the beginning and then I really took off,” she said.

Wichanee Meechai of Thailand, the outsider among the leaders with no LPGA wins and No. 158 in the world rankings, was eliminated early, taking a triple bogey on the par-3 6th hole. Her score was 77.

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

Her big run started with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole, followed by a wedge for a birdie on the 13th. She hit her approach shot to 6 feet on the 15th hole and then delivered the winning shot, a 3-wood to 20 feet on the reachable par-4 16th hole for a two-putt birdie.

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

Saso began the final round three strokes behind and it didn’t take long for things to start to falter.

Andrea Lee three-putted on the first hole and then took a double bogey on the fourth hole when she drifted into the creek, hit a tree on her third shot and had to bogey out of a bunker, resulting in a double bogey. Meechai three-putted on her first two holes and then took a shot left of the flag on the par-3 sixth hole, where the green slopes left into the creek.

Saso also needed help in her other victory at the US Women’s Open – Lexi Thompson lost a five-stroke lead over the final ten holes. This time she took control with a brilliant performance on the decisive putting and used the scoring holes to her advantage.

She said her feelings stemmed from not expecting to win. That’s how it felt at Olympic and that’s how it felt at Lancaster. This time it felt twice as good.

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