Yuka Saso finally birdied the par-5 18th hole on Saturday and produced a 69 to stay on track for a first major triumph in the rich Japan LPGA Championship at the JFE Setonaikai Golf Club in Okayama.
She carded nines of 35-34 for a three-day total of 207 and remained two shots off new leader Yuna Nishimura, who gunned down late birdies for 67 and a 205 total – just a shot ahead of Hiraki Tanabe (67) and halfway leader Hee Kyung Bae (70) of Korea.
This time, the two-leg winner Saso used her power off the team to keep her ball in the fairway all the time.
Saso could have posted a better score had she made a three-foot birdie putt on the 12th.
Not only that, she also flubbed a four-footer birdie putt on the 17th that saw the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist shake her head in disbelief.
Unlike in the first two rounds, Saso made sure she would end the day smiling by hitting a solid 3-wood tee-shot on the 510-yard 18th then blasting almost perfectly from the center of the fairway past the cup to the edge of the green for a routine two-putt birdie.
In the first round, she missed the green and three-putted for bogey in the second round.
The 19-year-old Saso is hoping to become the youngest winner of one of JLPGA Tour’s majors. If that happens, she will become the first rookie to win the event since Ai Suzuki ruled this premier event in 2014 at age 20.
Tied with Saso were Sayaka Takahashi, who shot a 69, Saki Nagamine, who fired a 68, and Sakura Koiwai, who also carded a 68.
Another shot back at 208 were first round co-leader Min-Young Lee and Ayaka Kimura, who turned in 68 and 70, respectively, while Momo Yoshikawa moved to solo 10th with a 70 and a 209, just four strokes behind Nishimura.