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Yuka Saso Fires Opening Round 68

Saso and Georgia Hall sit within 1-Shot of Leaders Nelly Korda, SY Kim and Madelene Sagstrom

 

On a day when Carnoustie or “Carnasty” played more like “Carnicely”, few players were able to take advantage of the easy conditions better than World No.1 – Nelly Korda. The newly crowned Olympic champion used 8-birdies to overcome 3-bogeys in her opening round, finishing with a first day score of 67 and a share of the lead with Korea’s Sei Young Kim and Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden.

With limp flags everywhere on the course, testifying to the lack of wind, Korda had a fairly unremarkable day with her ball-striking. She finished the round tied for 18th in Driving Distance, she was 15th in Accuracy off the tee box, finding 11 Fairways, and her putting was bang average as she finished the day, ranked 32nd with 29 putts on the day. Where Korda did excel was in her iron game or approach game, finishing tied for 5th, hitting 15 of 18 Greens in Regulation. She was able to convert her approach shots into enough birdies to overcome the aforementioned 3-bogeys on her way to her score of 67.

Nelly Korda's tee shot on the par -3
Co-Leader Nelly Korda

“I played well. Took advantage of the calmer day. It was definitely chillier in the morning. I’m not used to that coming from Tokyo. But I think I just took advantage of all my opportunities and played some solid golf.”

If Korda can adapt to the changing wind conditions, she will be a strong contender to hoist the silverware on Sunday. The forecast is calling for more wind Friday, with wind speeds reaching up to 18 mph / 28 kph with little precipitation except for drizzle conditions. The weekend outlook is calling for persistent rain on Saturday with both Saturday and Sunday seeing more windy conditions and gusts continuing to reach 18 mph / 28 kph.

Three players are tied for the lead at 67 (-5 under), including major winner Sei Young Kim, winner of the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Lurking right behind them, 1-shot back with scores of 68 (-4 under), are 4-players with two of them being major champions themselves – Georgia Hall (2018 AIG Women’s Open) and this year’s US Women’s Open champion, Yuka Saso.

The new US Women’s Open champion, Yuka Saso put herself into contention after the opening round. She did not play spectacular golf, but was solid throughout. Her round got off to a rough start with a bogey on the par 4, second hole, to put her into an early deficit. Birdies on the 5th and 6th holes dropped Saso to -1 under par after 9-holes.

Media Scrum for Yuka Saso
Yuka Saso speaking to the media after today's round at Carnoustie

She started the second nine in solid fashion, recording pars on holes 10 and 11, both par-4s. It was on the par-5, 12th hole, where Saso made a great shot from just off the front of the green, some 20-yards to the hole. She pulled her 56° wedge, playing a bump and run shot for an Eagle – 3. It dropped Saso’s score to -3 under with 6-holes remaining. Her “bump and run” shot is something that she picked up during a practice round with Stacy Lewis earlier in the week – Saso proved to be an apt student.

Her ball striking was not spectacular today, finding only found 9 – Fairways in Regulation from the tee box and her driving was solid, averaging 270 yards. Where she did shine was with her short game around the greens, saving par and keeping her in contention. On the day, she finished with 13 – Greens in Regulation and 28-putts. As for her reaction, she said that she was thankful that she had a bit of luck with the chip, especially given the early bogey. On a day when there was very little bite to Carnoustie, Saso was also surprised and thankful for the calm weather today after a week of practising in the colder Scottish summers.

“I started with a bogey, but I got lucky out there – I chipped in for an Eagle, and I think I played really good out there and I really enjoyed it. . . . I was expecting today to be super windy and super cold, but thankful that today was a little bit calm.”

The upside to Yuka Saso’s play today is that she was missing both Fairways and Greens at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, yet she managed to find a way to stay close to the lead before eventually emerging triumphant. She seems to have the even temperament that successful golfers need, so if the weather turns a little more “nasty” and she can stay calm, avoiding the big numbers with just an odd bogey over the next few days, she should make plenty of pars and enough birdies to be in contention for the win on Sunday.

 
 

As for one of the home crowd favourites, England’s Georgia Hall played solid golf, demonstrating her comfort level with links style golf. Her opening round score of 68 (-4 under) means that she shares 4th spot with Yuka Saso and two others. Hall briefly tied for the lead at -5 under before a costly bogey on Carnoustie’s famed 18th hole dropped her to -4 under.

“It’s my favourite event of the year. It’s one I enjoy the most. It’s so nice to be playing at home in front of home crowds cheering me on. And obviously links golf, I rarely get to play that nowadays. It’s just a lot of happiness when I’m here.”

Georgia Hall holding aloft the trophy from the AIG Women's Open
2018 AIG Women's Open champion

The 2018 AIG Women’s Open champion, Hall probably represents the best links player of the British contingent and their best prospect this week. A pair of bogeys at the 5th and 18th holes, book-end Hall’s impressive string of 6-birdies over 11-holes. For her part, Hall looked comfortable on the greens, rolling some great putts for birdies like the one she sank from approximately 20 feet out on the 8th hole. Even though she bogeyed the 18th hole, she looked as if she would save par. However, with her par putt from mid-range tracking nicely to the hole, it never found the cup, burning the left edge. Hall would be forced to tap it in for bogey.

With an average driving distance of 270 yards, Hall’s ball-striking was solid from tee to green, with 12 of 15 Fairways in Regulation and 13 of 18 Greens in Regulation. With the weather expected to revert back to normal, Hall’s ability to find fairways from the tee box could prove to be a big advantage. Today’s playing conditions meant the long hitters could drive their ball with little impunity, taking bunkers out of play and reducing the penal nature of the rough. As the wind picks up, it will present a far greater challenge to the players – poor decisions with club selection or poor swings will become ever more punitive.

This is where Hall can gain her edge. The punitive nature of the fairway bunkers leads to players having to play sideways, just getting the ball out of the bunker on to the fairway. Invariably, unless someone holes out with their approach shot, it is almost always a guaranteed bogey. Looking back on her round today, Hall expressed satisfaction, noting that after a slow start to the round, she really managed to get her irons to come around, particularly on the second nine.

“My irons were pretty good on the back nine especially. It took me a while to get going the first five or six holes. I had some really important par putts, three, four-footers that kind of kept me in it, and then a great shot on 16 to get another birdie.”

 

Round 2 gets underway at 6:30 a.m. local time.

Georgia Hall gets underway at 7:14 a.m. with Megan Khang and leading amateur, Louise Duncan.

Yuka Saso is also off in the morning wave at 8:09 a.m. with Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson.

Nelly Korda tees off in the afternoon wave of players at 12:49 p.m..

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