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Yuka Saso

Saso drops 5 shots off; Pagdanganan falls

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Yuka Saso salvaged an even par 71 and into the money race of the rich US Women's Open now led by fellow LPGA of Japan Tour campaigner Hinako Shibuno in Houston, Texas Friday.

After blowing a four-under card and a short stab at the lead of women's golf premier championship Thursday, Saso went for accuracy rather than length at the Jackrabbit course they consider a bit easier than Cypress Creek but with narrow fairways and greens. But the Fil-Japanese still grappled with her driver, missing eight fairways while going out of regulation seven times.

But she called on her superb short game to rescue a number of pars for a one-birdie, one-bogey round that came after a 69 at Cypress Thursday.

The 19-year-old ICTSI-backed ace, who broke a par-game at the back with a birdie on No. 18, also finished with a decent 29-putt stint although she missed improving to joint third with a muffed three-foot birdie putt on No. 6 that would have negated her bogey on the fifth.

With a 140 aggregate, the ICTSI-backed ace, the leading player in JLPGA's money race, fell farther back by five at joint sixth as Shibuno cashed in on her fine form and blitzed the Jackrabbit side of the Champions Golf Club with a 67 to take firm control at 135.

But while Saso had a trouble-free roll to the weekend, Bianca Pagdanganan saw her consecutive cuts made in the LPGA Tour disappointingly end at eight as she crumbled at the finish after a fiery start and burying an eagle on No. 13, giving up four strokes in the last five to hobble with a 75 for a 147. She missed the 66-player cut by two strokes.

Recalling the form that netted her a breakthrough major win in the British Open last year, Shibuno came away with six birdies in calm conditions to negate her two bogeys as she surged ahead by three shots over Swede amateur Linn Grant heading to the final 36 holes of the $5.5 million event which offers $1 million to the winner.

Grant held her ground against the seasoned campaigners and shot a second 69 for a 138 while Kaitlyn Papp, another amateur, carded a 68 to tie fellow Americans Stacy Lewis, who also fired a 68, and erstwhile leader Amy Olson, who stumbled with a 72, at third at 139.

Joining Saso, who will bidding to better two-time LPGA winner Jennifer Rosales' tied for fourth finish in 2004, at sixth are South African Ashley Buhai, Americans Cristie Kerr and Sarah Schmelzel, who all turned in 69s, Lindsey Weaver (70) and Thai Ariya Jutanugarn (70).

But the real battle begins Saturday, back at the challenging Cypress Creek, with most of the best players in the world in the hunt, including No. 2 Sei Young Kim (69-141), New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who became the youngest at 17 to become world No. 1 in 2015 (70-141), defending champion Jeongeun Lee6 (69-142), current No. 1 Jin Young Ko (70-143), No. 4 Danielle Kang (71-143), seven-time major winner and No. 5 Inbee Park (72-143) and No. 7 Nasa Hataoka (73-144).

Pagdanganan, however, won’t be joining the war she was very much into until she went on a spell and yielded precious strokes in the last five holes.

The Tour’s driving leader, who tied for 37th with a 72 start, barged into the Top 10 with three birdies in the first five holes. But she lost her touch and rhythm from there, bogeying No. 7, dropping two strokes on the par-5 ninth, and yielding shots on Nos. 10 and 12 to fall off the leaderboard.

But she eagled No. 13 to draw level par in the day and one-over overall but fumbled with another double-bogey on No. 14 and bogeyed the last two to finish with a 39 and a 75.

Other notables who missed the cut were the two other big-hitters, Anne Van Dam (73-146) and Maria Fassi (74-157), along with Alena Sharp (71-146), Eun Hee Ji (72-146), Brittany Lang (73-146), world No. 3 Nelly Korda (73-146), Lexi Thompson (73-147) and former world No. 1 Sung Hyun Park (78-148).

Saso’s rivals in JLPGA also failed to advance, including Momoko Ueda (73-147), Teresa Lu (74-147), Ayaka Watanabe (71-148), Yuna Nishimura (75-148), Saki Asai (73-149), Lala Anai (72-150) and Ayaka Furue, who snatched the Player of the Year lead from the Fil-Japanese, (74-150). Jeanne Cortez

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