Al-Khaleej win their first Elite Handball Cup

Yuka Saso also won the US Women’s Open. This one was for Japan, via the Philippines

LANCASTER, Pa.: The first Filipina to win the US Women’s Open and now the first from Japan. The sweetest thing of all for Yuka Sasa was sharing the biggest prize in her sport with both of her parents’ countries.

Saso hit a masterpiece on the back nine at the tough Lancaster Country Club on Sunday with so many of his rivals down. She finished with a 2-under 68 – the four players in the final two groups combined for a 22-over par – to win by three strokes.

And then she held back tears as she was presented with the trophy – the silver Semple Trophy only has the names of the 79 winners, not their countries – as she thought about how much her Filipino mother and Japanese father had provided so much care and support.

She won at The Olympic Club in 2021, playing under the flag of the Philippines. Three years later she won in Lancaster under the flag of Japan. I couldn’t be more proud of both of them.

“When I won in 2021, I represented the Philippines. I feel like I was able to get back to my mom,” Saso said. “I was able to represent Japan this year and I think I was able to give back to my father. I’m so glad I made it.

“It feels great to be able to give back to my parents in the same way.”

Only the flag has changed. Saso, 22, was just as solid down the stretch as she was at the Olympic Club, where two late birdies put her into a playoff victory over Nasa Hataoka.

This time she rode four birdies on the five-hole stretch of the back nine with a collection of moments of tee shots and putts, wedges and long irons, all that golf’s toughest test demands. And no one could catch her.

Saso was up and down for par from the under par 18th green to finish at 4-under 276 to win by three shots ahead of Hinako Shibuna, who became the first Japanese woman to win the Women’s British Open in 2019.

They were the only players under par, the fewest for the Women’s Open in 10 years.

Saso, who has two titles on the Japanese LPGA before coming to America, joined Se Ri Pak and In Gee Chun as the only players to achieve their first two LPGA major championship victories.

It was also her first post-Olympic club win, a win that was so surprising that she said she wasn’t ready for the spotlight. She handled everything Lancaster and the Women’s Open threw at her.

“I really wanted it too – not only to get another win, but also to prove something to myself,” said Saso. “I haven’t won in three years. I definitely had a little doubt whether I could win again or not. But yeah, I think those experiences helped a lot and I think I was able to prove a little bit to myself.”

Andrea Lee, part of a three-way tie for the lead at the start of this wild day, was the last player to have a chance to catch Sas. But the Stanford Scholar, former No. 1, badly missed her first putt on the easy 16th and had to settle for par before bogeying the 17th. Lee bogeyed the final 18th for a 75 to tie for third with Ally Ewing (66).

Saso won $2.4 million of the $12 million purse, the most in women’s golf and the most in a women’s singles event.

With the victory, Saso was also able to return to the Olympics – in 2021 she played for the Philippines at the Tokyo Games and tied for ninth place. Before she turned 21, she had to decide which country she would represent, and she went with Japan.

She led a strong performance in Japan at Lancaster – five players in the top 10. Saso and Shibuno were the first Japanese players to finish 1-2 at any major.

Although Sašo shone, Sunday was full of breakdowns. None was more shocking than Minjee Lee, the two-time major champion who won the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago.

Minjee Lee had a three-stroke lead going into the sixth hole. She missed a couple of birdie opportunities and made two bogeys before getting to the turn, but was still in control. And then her putt on the par-3 12th — the same hole where Nelly Korda made a 10 in the opening round — hit short and rolled back into the water. She took a double bogey to tie with Sas.

Sašo took the lead for good with a 3-foot wedge for birdie on 13. Minjee Lee drove into the waist-high grass on the 14th, had to take a penalty drop and made another double bogey. She finished with a 78.

“I missed a couple of birdie putts early and then I just kind of blew out of there,” she said.

Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai, the underdog among the LPGA’s winless leaders and ranked 158th in the world, was out early with a triple bogey on the par-3 sixth. She scored a 77.

Sašo was not immune to mistakes. She had a four-shot double bogey on the par-3 sixth, leaving her four shots behind Minjee Lee. It was the last of the mistakes that mattered.

Her big streak began with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 12, followed by a wedge for birdie on No. on the reachable par-4 16th for a two-putt birdie.

Saso is the second woman to win a major under two flags. Sally Little won the LPGA Championship for South Africa in 1980 and then won the du Maurier Classic in 1988 as a US citizen.

Sašo started the final round three strokes behind and it didn’t take long for the collapses to follow.

Andrea Lee three-putted the opening hole and then took a double-bogey on the fourth when she drove into a creek, hit a tree with the third shot and had to climb out of the bunker for a double-bogey. Meechai three-putted the first two holes, then went left of the flag on the par-3 sixth, where the green drops left and into a creek.

Saso also needed help in her second US Women’s Open victory – Lexi Thompson lost a five-stroke lead in the last 10 holes. This time she took control with a brilliant display of clutch insertion and exploiting holes to score.

She said her emotions were the result of not expecting to win. So it seemed at Olympia, and so it was at Lancaster. I thought this one was twice as good.

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