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Saso wins 2nd career U.S. Women's Open

Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Yuka Saso became a U.S. Women’s Open champion for the second time Sunday and took her place in history with a rare footnote — the first Filipino to win the Women’s Open in 2021, and now the first from Japan to win women’s golf's biggest event.

No matter the flag, the 22-year-old Saso delivered a masterful performance at Lancaster Country Club with a 2-under 68. She ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine amid a series of collapses and won without much drama.

Saso got up-and-down for par from short of the 18th green to finish at 4-under 276, winning by three shots over Hinako Shibuno, who in 2019 became the first Japanese player to capture the Women’s British Open.

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

Saso, who has two titles on the Japan LPGA, joined Se Ri Pak and In Gee Chun as the only players to make their first two LPGA victories major championships.

Andrea Lee, part of a three-way tie for the lead at the start of this wild day, was the last player who had a chance to catch Saso. But the Stanford alum, a former No. 1 amateur, badly missed her tee shot on the easy 16th and had to settle for par, then took bogey on the 17th. Lee took one last bogey on the 18th for a 75 to tie for third with Ally Ewing (66).

Saso has said she wishes she could play for two flags — her mother is from the Philippines, her father from Japan. She decided to switch citizenship before turning 21, and Saso wound up leading a strong showing by Japan — five players among the top 10.

“Winning in 2021, I represented the Philippines. I feel like I was able to give back to my mom,” Saso said at the trophy presentation. “This year I was able to represent Japan, and I think I was able to give back to my dad. I’m very happy that I was able to do it.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling that I was able to give back to my parents in the same way.”

Saso won $2.4 million from the $12 million purse, the largest in women’s golf and in women’s sports at a standalone venue.

The victory also put Saso in position to return to the Olympics — she played for the Philippines in 2021 in the Tokyo Games and tied for ninth.

As much as Saso shined, Sunday was filled with meltdowns. The final two groups combined to go 22-over par, none more shocking than Minjee Lee.

Minjee Lee, a two-time major champion who captured the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago, led by three shots on the front nine. She still had control until putting her tee shot into the water on the par-3 12th and took double bogey to fall into a tie with Saso.

She hit into waist-high grass two holes later for another double bogey and closed with a 78.

“I started good,” she said, reaching 6 under with a birdie on the first hole. “Just missed a couple putts for birdie early and then I kind of blew up from there.”

Wichanee Meechai of Thailand, the outsider among the leaders with no LPGA wins and a No. 158 world ranking, fell out early and took a triple bogey on the par-3 sixth. She shot 77.

Saso wasn’t immune from mistakes. She had a four-putt double bogey on the par-3 sixth that left her four shots behind Minjee Lee. That was the last of the mistakes that mattered.

Her big run began with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 12th, followed by a wedge to 3 feet on the par-5 13th hole. She hit her approach to 6 feet on the 15th hole and then delivered the winner, a 3-wood to 20 feet on the reachable par-4 16th for a two-putt birdie.

She three-putted the par-3 17th, but she had room for error. Saso was in the scoring room when it became official, and every player came through to share a hug.

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

It didn’t take long for collapses to unfold on a Sunday at a U.S. Open. Andrea Lee three-putted the opening hole and then took double bogey on the fourth when she drove into the creek, hit a tree with her third shot and had to get up-and-down from a bunker for double bogey.

Meechai three-putted her first two holes, and then went left of the flag on the par-3 sixth where the green slopes to the left and into the creek.

Saso also needed help in her other U.S. Women’s Open win — Lexi Thompson losing a five-shot lead over the last 10 holes. This time she seized control with a brilliant display of clutching putting and taking advantage of the scoring holes.

AP golf:

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