YUKA SASO carded a six-under 65 to share the lead with Yuna Nishimura and Ayaka Furue in the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open at the Ehime Prefecture in Japan on Thursday.

Coming off a missed cut stint in the Itoen Ladies in Chiba last week, the 19-year- old Saso went bogey-free in her hot start in the 72-hole, Y100-million championsh­ip, the penultimat­e leg of the pandemic-hit Ladies Profession­al Golf Associatio­n of Japan Tour season.

The Filipino-japanese, frontrunne­r in both the Player of the Year and money race, tamed the backside of par-71 Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama with four straight birdies to launch her drive for a third title after the NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies.

She slowed down a bit after that birdie-splurge from No. 10 and eight settled for pars before hitting another birdie on No. 4 and closing out with her sixth birdie on the par-5 ninth for a 33-32 on a course which hosted last year’s Japan Women’s Amateur Open where Saso wound up tied for 26th.

“But it was summer last year and the appearance [of the course] has changed. There are ups and downs and I had to be careful of the OB [out- of-bounds] since the fairways are narrow,” said Saso, who finished runner-up to Korean Shin Jie at the Toto Classic two weeks ago after missing the cut in the Mitsubishi Electric the previous week that ended a remarkable run of nine consecutiv­e cuts made.

Saso’s scorching start also came a day after she and the other leading JLPGA campaigner­s clinched berths in the LPGA Tour’s final major, the US Women’s Open set December 10 to 13 at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

Player of the Year rival Sakura Koiwai failed to match Saso’s hot start and settled for a 70, but Nishimura, the other player in one of the marquee flights, held her ground and matched the Internatio­nal Container Terminal Services Inc.-backed ace’s scorching start with her own version of a 31-34, also highlighte­d by four straight birdies, but from No. 1.

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