Strike threat over football calendar with players at ‘breaking point’

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania: Former champion Yuka Saso leaned on her club to survive a brutally tough start to the US Women’s Open on Thursday, an opening round that saw Nelly Korda go 10 on her third hole and only four players narrowly beat par .

Saso had three big par shots to start the back nine at Lancaster Country Club, reeling in two mid-range birdies toward the end of her round and finishing with a three-putt from the neck of the 18th green for bogey and a 2-under 68.

It seemed even lower than that to me considering all the scum around her. The top 10 players in the women’s world rankings averaged 75.5 — including Korda’s 80 — and only two-time major champion Minjee Lee did not break the mark.

“It’s the US Open. It’s the main thing. It’s the biggest major and I think it’s one of the toughest weeks we’re going to play,” Saso said. “I’m not telling myself to be confident or anything.”

Sasa, who capitalized on Lexi Thompson’s 2021 breakout to win the Women’s Open at Olympic Club, leads by one shot over Andrea Lee, Wichanee Meechai of Thailand and recently crowned NCAA champion Adela Cernousek of France.

Cernousek, a junior at Texas A&M, had company among the amateurs. Three of them were in the group at par 70 – US Women’s Amateur Champion Megan Schofill, Catherine Park and 15-year-old Asterisk Talley, who is coming off her first USGA title at the US Four-Ball Amateur Championship.

Lee, who won her second major two years ago at the Women’s Open at Pine Needles, holed a 15-footer just off the green on the par-3 17th to get back to par.

“Just come back and try to beat the course again,” she said.

The rest of the LPGA Tour’s biggest stars have been beaten, none as badly or as shockingly as Korda. No. 1 women’s golfer Korda arrives in Lancaster having won six of her last seven tournaments. Three holes into her opening round, she was reeling.

Korda hit from the back bunker into the stream on the par-3 12th hole, then two-putted into the stream on the other side en route to 10. She added four bogeys over the next 15 holes to post an 80, matching her highest round as a professional .

“Honestly, there’s not a lot of positive thoughts,” Korda said. “I just didn’t play well today. I didn’t hit well. I got into trouble many times. Going 10 on a par 3 certainly won’t do you any good at the US Open.

“Yeah,” she concluded, “just a bad day at the office.”

It was a bad day for so many others. Rose Zhang, who ended Korda’s five-game winning streak three weeks ago in New Jersey, looked shell-shocked as she left the 18th green with another three-putt bogey and a 79.

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson each shot 80. The average score for the field was 75.2.

The wind was swirling on some of the higher points of the course, and the greens were firm and bouncy, just the way the USGA likes them. The 156-player field produced just over 900 bogeys or worse — in Korda’s case, a seven-bogey.

Thompson, who is likely to play in her final US Women’s Open after announcing she will not play full-time after this year, began her back nine by going from bunker to bunker to bunker to a fat grave and took a triple bogey. She scored a 78.

Sašo picked up 5.7 hits in the game with a broomstick, and that put her in the lead.

“I made some really good shots. I think I had more luck than good games,” Sašo said.

She has a chance for an unusual piece of victory this week should she win and become the only Women’s Open champion to play under two flags.

Saso won the Olympic club as a Filipina and the following year – before she turned 21 – declared her Japanese citizenship (her father is Japanese). A big week could also push her into position to return to the Olympics under a different banner.

That seems far to me, especially after such a hard day’s work.

“There’s so much golf left,” Saso said. “The golf course is very difficult and the conditions are very difficult, especially with the wind swirling and when it’s blowing 15 mph with firm and fast greens.”

It seems that the amateur, especially Chernoushko, was not affected by this. She missed just two putts, one of them on a 40-foot three-pointer on the 14th hole, and held her nerve to make the par. She was surprised to see her name on every traffic light.

“I was like, ‘Whoa! I watched every leaderboard on the track,” she said.

Talley is one of two 15-year-olds on the court in Lancaster and played well beyond her years with smart decisions when she got out of position. Her one mistake came on the par-5 seventh hole when she moved her second shot only about 50 yards out of a thick rough, putt and then put it in the water in front of the green. She made triple bogey.

But Talley — her mother says Asterisk is Greek for “little star” — followed with nine holes with three birdies and six pars, not hitting the 17th.

“I feel like I could have done a lot better today, but I’m not mad at all about my round,” Talley said. “Heard that everyone, even a pair, is a good round today. I want it to be even under par.”

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