MANILA, Philippines — Fujita Saito, who played alongside Yuka Saso and compatriot Karen Tsuruoka in the final round of the NEC Karuizawa 72 golf tournament in Nagano Prefecture Sunday, didn’t hide her bewilderment to the Fil-Japanese shotmaker’s awesome power, comparing her to Tiger Woods no less.
“I feel like it’s not a women’s tour. It’s like playing with Tiger Woods,” said Saito, herself a certified power-hitter who yielded around 20 yards to Saso off the tee during their final-day showdown.
Saito, 34, said she had actually played with Saso in last year’s two-day qualifying of the Suntory Ladies Open and noticed the tremendous improvement in length by the two-time Philippine Ladies Open titlist.
“I thought her distance had increased a little from last year and I left it to Saso-san for about 20 yards,” said Saito in broken English.
There was no recorded driving distance for the 54-hole event but Saso’s card showed 19 birdies, including seven on par-5s, to underscore her awesome power. In the final round, she blasted a 285-yard drive on the par-5 16th and hit a solid 6-iron second shot to within 3 meters off the cup for eagle.
The Japanese closed out her campaign with five birdies in the last six holes, including four straight, for a 66 but still fell short by four as Saso ran away with the crown in only her second tournament on the LPGA of Japan Tour with an eagle-spiked, record-setting 63.
“I can play golf so complete at that age…but the power of her shot is amazing,” said Saito. “It’s better (for her) to go, play big scale.”
Saso did try to break into the LPGA Tour but fell short of her bid in the Final Q-Series, shifting her focus instead on the JLPGA where she turned in a joint fifth place effort in her maiden tournament at Earth Mondahmin Cup in Chiba last June before putting it all together this week.
Former world No. 1 Sung Hyun Park actually had a first glimpse of Saso’s potential when they slugged it out in the inaugural The Country Club Ladies Invitational at the TCC layout last year when the latter impressed the former, then playing as an amateur, with her long game and toughness.
“She’s a pro material,” said Park. “She’s good, she swings well and hits it with power.”
Related stories: SPORTS
Saso dominates Japan LPGA
The Filipino-Japanese golf phenom tallied a 9-under 63 on the final day of the 54-hole tournament.
The Asian Games gold medalist went to have a have four-day total of 16-under 200 and a four-stroke victory worth Y14,400,000 (around P6.6 million)
Saso, who became the first Filipina to dominate the Japan LPGA, won around P11 million in prize money so far this year.
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