Filipino-Japanese Yuka Saso carded a two-under 69 in the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Friday (Saturday in Manila) at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Northwest Arkansas.
In her first tournament after almost a month of rest, the 20-year-old Saso had a total of four birdies but added a pair of bogeys in the $2.3 million tournament that gathered 144 golfers.
Saso, who became the first Filipino player to win a major title when she bagged the US Women’s Open title last July, birdied on 7, 10, 17 and 18, while her bogeys were on 5 and 12.
A two-time recipient of the prestigious Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Athlete of the Year award, the Olympic veteran Saso finished the round six shots behind co-leaders Katherine Kirk of Australia, and Eun-Hee Ji and A Lim Kim of South Korea.
The par 71, 54-hole three-day event serves as the first tournament for the world No. 7 Saso since her joint-39th place finish in the British Women’s Open Championship last Aug. 22 in Scotland.
Kirk and the two Koreans all had bogey-free rounds of 63, with the former and Ji having eight birdies, and Kim with two less birdies but punctuated her performance with an eagle on 18.
The three enjoy a one-shot advantage on American Sarah Burnham, who had a bogey-free round of 64 that featured seven birdies.
Tied for fifth to ninth are Lindsey Weaver of the US, Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand, Aditi Ashok of India, Klara Spilkova of Czech Republic, and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka all with 65, while in joint 10th are Koreans Chella Choi, In Gee Chun and Haeji Kang, China’s Jing Yan, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Ashleigh Buhai of South Aftica all with 66.
Dottie Ardina and Bianca Pagdanganan – the two other Filipino players in the event – are in danger of missing the cut if they fail to improve on their second round performance as the projected score is one under.
Ardina had a one-over 72 while Pagdanganan was five-over 76 in the tournament.