Saso, Nishimura remain tied for lead
Yuka Saso and Yuna Nishimura went toe-to-toe for the second straight day and wound up with identical 70s to remain tied for the lead in the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open in Ehime Prefecture in Japan on Friday.
Saso and Nishimura were locked atop the leaderboard with 135s, followed by Ayaka Furue and Minami Katsu who assembled similar 136s after a 68 and 71, respectively.
Three others, including Sakura Koiwai, pooled 138s to guarantee an exciting chase heading into the last two rounds of the championship that offers a top purse of Y18 million from a total prize fund of Y100 million at the Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama.
Saso and Nishimura, who matched six-under 65s Thursday that saw the Filipino-japanese sizzle with 23 putts, failed to shake off each other in a fiery duel in cold, windy conditions. Nishimura birdied two of the first four holes and Saso countered with birdies on Nos. 3 and 6.
The two-leg winner Saso bogeyed No. 5 and Nishimura dropped a shot at No. 8 and the duo headed to the last nine holes tied again.
The International Container Terminal Services Inc.-backed Saso missed a good look for a birdie after her chip shot in the par-5 ninth green caught the slope of the fringe and barely rolled onto the green.
But she went up with a birdie on No. 11 as Nishimura parred the first five holes at the back but the latter birdied the 15th to join the former in the lead again. They bogeyed the par-3 16th and parred the last two to arrange another faceoff in the pivotal third round.
Katsu, champion here in 2018, shot a second 68 to earn a spot in the featured group as erstwhile leader Furue, coming off a playoff victory in last week’s Itoen Ladies, failed to sustain her opening 65 with a two-birdie, one double-bogey round for a 71.
Korean Bae Seon Woo fired a 67 to lead the 138 scorers, including Na-ri Lee, who carded a second 69, and Koiwai, who finally hit her stride and outshot Saso and Nishimura with a 68 after starting out with a 70.
Seven others turned in 139s, four strokes behind, including Suzuhide Matsuda (70), Asako Fujimoto (70), Kana Nagai (66), Lee Min-young (71), Ji Hee Lee (71), Yon Chae Young (70) and Earth Mondahmin Cup winner Ayaka Watanabe (68).
But focus will be on Saso and Nishimura with the Player of Year and money race frontrunner seeking to become the first player to amass more than Y100 million with a victory this weekend. The Pinay rookie has raked in Y82.753 in earnings in 12 tournaments spiked by back-to-back victories at NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies last August.
But Nishimura, a rookie like Saso, has picked up her game after missing all but one cut in her first four tournaments, reaching peak form to win the Mitsubishi Electric crown before tying for ninth in Toto Classic.