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Saso equals Korda's 68, but Pagdanganan wavers

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso held her ground against former world No. 1 Nelly Korda and matched 68 cards in a riveting start. But they stood five strokes off a hot-starting pair of Nasa Hataoka of Japan and Chinese Ruoning Yin after 18 holes of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida Thursday (Friday Manila time).

Korda showed her prowess with a noteworthy five-birdie performance at the Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold course. But the multi-titled American and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist slipped with a birdie on the par-5 17th and ended up with a pair of 34s on a 13-of-14 stint off the mound and 16-of-18 in green-in-regulation.

She, however, finished with 30 putts.

The long-hitting Saso, coming off a long break, birdied two of the first five holes (par-4 No. 3 and par-3 No. 5) but missed to gain strokes on the first two par-5s. Like Korda, the ICTSI-backed Filipino-Japanese, who edged Hataoka in sudden death to nail her major breakthrough in the US Women’s Open in 2021, flourished with her long game and iron play, hitting all but two fairways and missing just one green.

But she likewise struggled on the surface, ending up with 32 putts, including two that netted her birdies on the last two long holes (Nos. 14 and 17) for a solid 34-34 round.

Saso and Korda tied for 13th with seven others in a day of torrid scoring in near-ideal conditions with Hataoka scorching the par-72 layout with nine birdies to seize the clubhouse lead at 63.

Yin later matched Hataoka’s solid nine-under card on a flawless 14-of-14 stint on the mound. The Women’s PGA Championship winner also missed just one green and posted a 27-putt outing to gain a piece of the lead in the $7 million championship.

Meanwhile, Bianca Pagdanganan, whose campaign is also supported by the world's leading port operator, recovered from an early slip but ran out of holes to rebound from late mishaps as she turned in a 73 to drop to joint 55th in the elite 60-player field where the winner on Sunday will pocket a whopping $2 milion.

Pagdanganan made a shaky start coming off a joint 19th place finish in last week’s Annika Drive by Gainbridge that secured her a spot in this week’s blue-ribbon event and a full