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Wild finish looms as Saso closes in with 69

MANILA, Philippines -- Yuka Saso squandered a joint share of the lead in a midway backside struggle but birdied two of the last three holes to rescue a 69 Saturday (Sunday Manila time) and threaten to within one off three leaders in the Ford Championship heading to a frenetic finish in Gilbert, Arizona.

In a windy third round battle of determination and adeptness on the Seville Golf and Country Club, Saso endured tough conditions and challenges, overcoming a three-stroke deficit to grab a share of the lead at 15-under on a birdie-birdie feat from No. 11 for a running four-under card.

A bogey on No. 14 and a double bogey on the next, however, dropped her off the leaderboard. But the 2021 US Women’s Open champion closed out in a fashion that was nothing short of spectacular, showcasing her ability to hit critical shots under pressure.

She birdied No. 16, then came through with a precise bunker shot on the 17th that demonstrated her technical prowess and mental fortitude to save par. From the waste area on the par-5 closing hole, she hit a superb approach shot to within 16 feet and drained the putt.

With a 54-hole haul of 14-under 202, the ICTSI-backed shotmaker positioned herself just one stroke behind Carlota Ciganda, Hyo Joo Kim and Sarah Schmeizal, who matched 201s after 66, 69 and 70, respectively.

But with Maja Stark joining Saso at fourth after a 66, and 10 others, including a slew of major winners, pooling 203s, a wild final round chase is seen in the $2.25-million championship serving as the seventh leg of this year’s LPGA Tour.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of a rainy Sunday, organizers adjusted the tee times for the final round. Players will be grouped in threes and will use both first and 10th tees with the first two groups setting out at 9:08 a.m. and the last at 11:20 p.m.

The wind did introduce a variable that demanded not just skill but strategic acumen from the host of contenders, turning the event into a mental battle against the elements.

Saso, acknowledging the stark contrast in conditions to the previous rounds, adapted commendably. Her ability to maintain composure and minimize errors underscored her comments about playing well in the wind,