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Saso stays on top; Malixi 3rd

SAN DIEGO, California – Yuka Saso put on another fine display of all-around consistency to card a two-under-par 70 on Thursday (Friday in Manila) and stay afloat by three strokes after the penultimate round of the girls 15-18 years competition in the IMG Academy Junior World Championships here.

The 16-year-old Saso survived the pressure when pitted against two Japanese flight mates with three birdies and a bogey at Torrey Pines North, moving 18 holes closer to a victory that a Philippine contingent badly needs after suffering stinging setbacks in the other divisions.

Rianne Malixi, the only PH girl who had a shot at winning, failed to deliver. Just a stroke behind the leader going to the final round, Malixi ballooned to a 75, her bid hurt by a triple-bogey on the 13th, and wound up third behind Canada’s Michelle Liu and Avery Zweigh of Texas at 217.
Sean Dominique Granada was the best performer among the boys bets with his 73-216 giving him a share of 18th place.

Worse, all five PH bets in the boys 15-18 years missed the cut.

“I’ll try to focus on my game tomorrow. I will be in the same situation like last year but hopefully, I’ll play better,” said the 16-year-old Saso, who has now led all three rounds after scoring a 66 and 69 the first two days.

Making up for a heartbreaking finish will be the biggest motivation for Saso who even had a larger lead of four strokes last year. The big lead was gone as early as the first six holes and Saso ended up sharing second, eventually losing in the count back.

It will be the same final threesome as in Thursday’s third round with Saso, leading at 228, joined by Japanese players Nao Ohbayashi, three behind at 208 after a 69, and Anna Kono, four back at 209 following a 70.

While aiming to give the Philippines its lone victory which would end a two-year skid, Saso will also try to prevent the Japanese from stretching their dominance as five of their players emerged as division champions with only the two 15-18 years diadems left to be disputed.

Though Ohbayashi won their duel in the third round, the former managed to just shave a stroke off Saso’s lead. After they matched birdies on the 10th and 11th, Saso parred the remaining holes to keep Ohbayashi at bay.