By REY C. LACHICA
Two-leg winner Yuka Saso sizzled with a four-under 67 but it was not enough to hold off the charging Ayaka Furue and dropped to second going into the final 18 holes of the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open in Ehime Prefecture on Saturday.
After a slow start, the 19-year-old rookie strung up four birdies starting on the par-3 12th hole for a three-day total of 202. She had earlier rounds of 65 and 70 in the event serving as the penultimate leg of the pandemic-hit LPGA of Japan Tour.
Like Saso, Furue also turned the backnine of the par-71 Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama into her own veritable playground with five birdies on the way to an impeccable seven-under 64.
One of three players who carded a 65 in the opening round, Furue highlighted her round with three straight birdies starting on the 11th.
She gained the separation from the Fil-Japanese rookie with back-to-back birdies on 16th and 17th holes.
On the day of impressive scores, Erika Kikuchi gunned down eight birdies against a bogey for a 65 and jumped to third at 205 while a stroke a farther back were Ayaka Watanabe, Kana Nagai and Min-Young Lee who logged a 67 each.
Yuna Nishimura, who started the round tied for the lead with Saso, managed only a 71 and created a tie for fourth to 7th places.
Momoko Ueda shot a 66 and drew level with Minami Katsu (71) at 207 in the Y100 million event.
While some gained ground, Sunday’s spotlight will surely be on the showdown between Saso and Furue.
A victory would cement Saso’s bid to win both the Player of Year and money race awards.
Saso is hoping to become the first player to amass more than Y100 million.
After 12 tournaments, the 2018 Asian Games double-gold medal winner has already Y82,753,170 in earnings – thanks to her back-to-back victories at NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies last August.