Yuka Saso- photo USGA John Mummert
A 12 foot birdie putt on the third hole of a playoff saw Filipino, Yuka Saso, fully overcome a horror start to her final round of the US Women’s Open and eventually take the female game’s most significant event and become the first Filipino to do so.
Saso had begun the final round one shot behind Lexi Thompson but consecutive double bogeys at the 2nd and 3rd holes threatened to end any hopes of a dream win for the 19-year-old.
A pep talk from her caddie after the 3rd hole reminded Saso there were still plenty of holes to go and reminded her of the importance of refocusing on the task at hand. From the 4th hole on she would record three birdies and a bogey, two very important birdies at the par five 16th and 17th holes, allowing her to draw level with Thompson before a par at the last saw her enter a playoff against Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.
Not only is it Saso’s first major title but it is her first LPGA Tour victory as she had been previously ineligible for that tour. She now has the right to play the LPGA Tour but she was not quick to confirm such would be the case.
“I just heard that,” said Saso when told of the possible graduation to the LPGA Tour. “I’m going to talk to my dad, my family about it, and we are going to decide after.”
Saso was boosted by a large Filipino contingent, many of whom live in the Daly City area outside of San Francisco and gave thanks for that support and for that of those back in the Philippines.
“I’m just thankful that there’s so many people in the Philippines cheering for me. I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone.
“There’s so many people holding up Philippines flags, and it’s really big. It made me really happy.”
Both Saso and Hataoka parred the opening two holes of a two-hole aggregate playoff before the third hole would become sudden death. It was there that Saso hit a superb approach from the left rough to 12 feet. Hataoka had found the fairway from the tee but her approach was well short and after her 35 foot putt missed the stage was left to Saso to end the battle.
Hataoka, playing in the second to last group, began the final round six shots behind Thompson but produced a brilliant final round of 68 to force her way into contention and then watch as Thompson self-destructed over her closing holes.
Nasa Hataoka misses a birdie chance at the 72nd hole – photo USGA
Thompson squandered a five shot lead she had established through five holes of the final round, playing her final eight holes in five over par including consecutive bogeys to finish and she would fall, agonisingly, one shot short.
Understandably, Thompson was gutted with her demise over the last few holes to lose the chance of a first US Women’s Open.
“Yeah, of course it’s tough,” said Thompson. “I really didn’t feel like I hit any bad golf shots. That’s what this golf course can do to you, and that’s what I’ve said all week.
“But overall, I’d be the first one to tell you that I hit some bad golf shots and I deserved it, but it’s golf.
“Of course it’s hard to smile, but, I mean, it was an amazing week. Yeah, I played not so good today with a few of the bogeys coming in on the back nine, but the fans were unbelievable, hearing the chants and just gives me a reason to play.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling to be out here and play this golf course. I’ve never been out here, so it was a blessing, and I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years. I have a tournament next week, so we’ll take it from here.”
Keeping a brave face till the end – Thompson acknowledges the crowd at the 18th – image USGA
Lydia Ko finished as the best of the three Australasians to make the cut, the New Zealander finishing at 10 over and in 35th place and one ahead of Minjee Lee with Hannah Green another six shots back in 65th place.
Ko was full of praise for the golf course. “I think this was a fantastic golf course for a U.S. Open. I think it tests every part of your game. The greens are I think on the smaller side, and that’s why it’s even more crucial to be on the fairways.
“Sometimes you hit good shots and they still end up in the rough, but I think for the majority if you hit a good shot you were rewarded, and I think that really resembles what a U.S. Open should be like and what a major championship should be like.”
Lydia Ko arriving at the course on Sunday – USGA Darren Carroll