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Last-hole mishap drops Saso to joint 10th after 67

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso fouled up in a frontside finish and missed closing in on leader Jasmine Suwannapura with a five-under 67, four strokes off the Thai ace after 18 holes of the Maybank Championship at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Malaysia Thursday.

Saso sustained a scorching backside 33 start with birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 then bucked a miscue on the sixth with back-to-back feats from No. 7 to move to joint seventh at six-under. But she holed out with a bogey and instead slipped to a share of 10th with a slew of aces in the early going of the $3 million event of the LPGA Tour’s two-leg swing in Asia.

Out to rebound from her tied 34th finish in last week’s BMW Championship won by Aussie Minjee Lee in South Korea, Saso picked up strokes on Nos. 13 and 14 and dominated the par-5 18th then birdied two of the first three holes at the turn to get into the mix.

Though she reeled back with a mishap on No. 6, she quickly regained her bearing and rhythm and birdied the next two holes, only to stumble at the finish.

Still, it was a fine start of the ICTSI-backed Fil-Japanese ace, who has finished in the Top 10 twice in her last five tournaments, marked by a tied for fifth effort at the Kroger Queen City Championship.

She hit 11 fairways on a 268-yard norm, reached regulation 14 times and finished with 27 putts.

But it was Suwannapura who came out of the first round in best form as she scorched the frontside with four birdies and played the last six holes in five-under, highlighted by a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 14th.

That led to a solid 63 and a one-stroke lead over Aussie Hannah Green, who fired a bogey-free 64, while American Rose Zhang, Taiwanese Peiyun Chien, Gina Kim of the US and Grace Kim, also from Down Under, matched 65s.

Meanwhile, Dottie Ardina birdied No. 2 but that was the best that the veteran Filipina campaigner could muster as she wrested with her putter the rest of the way, bogeying Nos. 4 and 17 and winding up with a 73 for a share of 67th in a field of 77.

She made 35 putts on a 12-of-14 stint off the mound while hitting 13 greens in regulation.