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Saso rallies to shoot 69; Pagdanganan saves 74

MANILA, Philippines -- Yuka Saso endured a late and shaky backside start with a blistering frontside windup, posting a three-under 69 to stay in the early mix in stroke play phase of the T-Mobile Match Play paced by Korean Sei Young Kim in Las Vegas, Nevada Wednesday (Thursday Manila time).

Saso rattled off a three-birdie binge in a four-hole stretch from No. 4, crafting a round of 33-36 round marred by a two-birdie, two-bogey card in her first nine holes at the backside of the Shadow Creek course.

The ICTSI-backed 2021 US Women's Open champion tied for fourth spot with Aussie Minjee Lee and Swede Anna Nordqvist, three strokes behind Kim, who dominated the early going of the novel $2-million championship with a 66, which featured five frontside birdies.

Americans Rose Zhang and Danielle Kang matched 67s for joint second with the former spiking her 32-35 card with four straight birdies from No. 6 and latter flashing her familiarity with the course she calls home to shoot six birdies against one bogey.

Bianca Pagdanganan, on the other hand, birdied the par-5 18th to salvage a 74, tying for 40th place in a starting field of 96.

The big-hitting Pagdanganan, whose campaign is also supported by the world's leading port operator, sustained her solid 66 in last week’s Ford Championship as she birdied No. 6 but stumbled with four bogeys in the first five holes at the back, finally closing with a birdie for a 35-39.

Saso’s roller-coaster start saw her drop and gain strokes in equal measure across the first nine holes at the back. She then settled down at the front, knocking down birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 then seizing the opportunity on the par-5 seventh.

The event will narrow down the field to the top 65 and ties after 36 holes of stroke play, leading into another round of stroke play on Friday. The top eight players will then advance to the knockout stage.

Ties for the last match play spots will be resolved through a hole-by-hole stroke-play playoff.

Quarterfinal matches will be played Saturday morning, setting the stage for the afternoon semifinal battles with the championship showdown set on Sunday.

World No. 1 Nelly Korda, meanwhile, struggled in launching her bid for a