Yuka Saso sank a birdie putt on the third playoff hole to outduel Nasa Hataoka and win the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday in San Francisco.
The 19-year-old Saso shot a 2-over 73 to finish at 4-under 280 on the Lake Course at Olympic Club on a day in which American Lexi Thompson shot 4-over 75 and suffered through an epic back-nine collapse. Saso is the first golfer from the Philippines to win the prestigious title.
She also matched Inbee Park as the youngest golfers (19 years, 11 months, 17 days) to win the U.S. Women’s Open. Park won her first U.S. Open in 2008.
Hataoka of Japan shot a 3-under 68 and matched Saso’s scores on the two-hole aggregate playoff on Holes 9 and 18. Then the format turned to sudden death and soon it was Saso as the surprise golfer in the winner’s circle as she made the 10-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole.
And it was surprising to her as well. Saso said she didn’t dare dream about winning the biggest tournament in women’s golf.
“Not really. I wasn’t thinking that,” Saso said on the Golf Channel. “I was just glad and thankful that I was here and able to play in this tournament. Yeah, it’s unbelievable.”
Yuka Saso’s Remarkable Comeback
Saso entered the final round trailing third-round leader Thompson by one stroke and her day started badly with back-to-back double bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3.
“I was actually upset,” Saso said after her third career victory. “My caddie talked to me and was like there’s still many holes to go so keep doing what I was doing the last few days and trust the process.”
She bounced back with a birdie on No. 7. After a bogey on 11, Saso carded birdies on 16 and 17 during Thompson’s collapse.
Saso was wide right on a 20-foot birdie putt to win on 18 before recovering to knock in the par putt to join Hataoka in the playoff.
Lexi Thompson’s Stunning Collapse
Thompson was on the outside of the playoff after bogeys on 17 and 18. She left her par putt on 18 woefully short when she didn’t strike the ball well to finish alone in third place.
Thompson led by five strokes after completing the front nine. But she had three bogeys over the last five holes while shooting 41 on the back nine. Thompson began falling apart when she double-bogeyed the par-4 11th hole.
“Of course it’s tough,” Thompson said of her collapse. “… I just got the wind wrong on a couple shots coming in. I’d be the first one to tell you that I hit some bad golf shots and I deserved it but it’s golf.”
On the front nine, the 26-year-old Thompson had two birdies and one bogey and was positioned well to win the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time in 15 attempts.
Thompson’s freefall and inability to handle the pressure was even more stunning because she shot a blistering 5-under 66 in the third round.
She said she didn’t pay attention to the leaderboard until late in the round.
“I knew about it coming down the stretch I guess, the last few holes,” Thompson said. “But I really didn’t look at it all day. Honestly, I tried not to focus on it.”
Nasa Hataoka Falls Just Short
Hataoka birdied three of the final six holes while also taking advantage of Thompson’s pitfalls. Overall, she made six birdies, one bogey and one double-bogey.
But the 22-year-old Hataoka bemoaned an opportunity that got away on the first of the two aggregate playoff holes.
“I was thinking to myself that I need birdies on these holes,” Hataoka told The Golf Channel through a translator. “Not being able to get that birdie on the first playoff hole probably made me lose.”
Megan Khang (70) and China’s Shanshan Feng (71) tied for fourth at 2-under 282. Angel Yin shot 70 and was sixth at even-par 284.
South Korea’s Jin Young Ko (69), Canada’s Brooke Henderson (70), Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn (70) and Park (72) tied for seventh at 1 over.
High school junior Megha Ganne had a rough final round with a 5-over 77 but still finished as the low amateur at 3-over 287.
The 17-year-old Ganne was the talk of the first round when he shot 67 to share the lead with Mel Reid of England.
“No disappointment at all,” Ganne told NBC. “Came to win but that’s just a goal. Sometimes your goal gets sidetracked. I had a ton of fun.”
Ganne said she was due in class at Holmdel High in New Jersey on Monday.
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)