Strike threat over football calendar with players at ‘breaking point’

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania: Former champion Yuka Saso leaned on her putter to survive a brutally difficult start to Thursday’s U.S. Women’s Open, an opening round that saw Nelly Korda card a 10 on the third hole and only four players tee off barely par.

Saso made three big par putts to start the back nine at Lancaster Country Club, made two mid-length birdie putts late in his round and finished with three putts from the collar of the 18th green for bogey and a 2-under 68 .

She seemed even shorter considering all the carnage around her. The top 10 players in the women’s world rankings had an average score of 75.5 – including Korda’s 80 – and only two-time major champion Minjee Lee was not above par.

“It’s a US Open. It’s an important one. It’s the most important championship and I think it will be one of the most difficult weeks we will play,” Saso said. “I don’t tell myself I’m confident or anything like that.”

Saso, who overcame Lexi Thompson’s meltdown in 2021 to win the Women’s Open at the Olympic Club, led by a stroke over Andrea Lee, Wichanee Meechai of Thailand and recently crowned NCAA champion Adela Cernousek of France.

Cernousek, a Texas A&M student, had company among the amateurs. Three of them were in the even-par 70 group: U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Megan Schofill, Catherine Park and 15-year-old Asterisk Talley, who is coming off her first USGA title at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Lee, who had her second major at the Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago, holed out from 15 feet just off the green on the par-3 17th to get back to par.

“Go back and try to beat the course again,” he said.

The rest of the LPGA Tour’s biggest stars have taken a beating, none as severe or shocking as Korda. The No. 1 player in women’s golf, Korda arrived in Lancaster having won six of her last seven tournaments. Three holes into her opening round, she was sent reeling.

Korda hit from a back bunker into a stream on the par-3 12th hole, and then teed off into the stream on the other side twice on her way to a 10. She added four bogeys in the next 15 holes and signed for an 80 , equaling his highest round as a professional.

“There aren’t a lot of positive thoughts, honestly,” Korda said. “I just didn’t play well today. I didn’t hit it well. I often found myself in difficulty. Scoring 10 on a par 3 definitely won’t do you any good at the US Open.

“Yeah,” he concluded, “just a bad day at the office.”

It was a bad day for so many others. Rose Zhang, who ended Korda’s five-game hitting streak three weeks ago in New Jersey, appeared to be in shock when she walked off the 18th green with another three-putt bogey and a 79.

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson each shot 80. The average score for the field was 75.2.

The wind swirled at some of the highest points on the course, and the greens were firm and bouncy, just the way the USGA likes it. The 156-player field produced just over 900 bogey scores or worse — in Korda’s case, a sevenfold bogey.

Thompson, who will likely play her last U.S. Women’s Open after announcing she will no longer play a full schedule after this year, began her back nine by going from bunker to bunker to bunker to Thick Rough and taking the triple bogey. She shot 78.

Saso collected 5.7 strokes on the course with her putter and that put her ahead.

“I made some really good putts. I think I was luckier than playing well,” Saso said.

She has a chance to get a particular slice of victory this week if she wins and becomes the only Women’s Open champion to play under two flags.

Saso won as a Filipina at the Olympic Club and the following year, before turning 21, she declared her Japanese citizenship (her father is Japanese). A big week could also put her in a position to return to the Olympics under a different flag.

It seems like a very long time ago, especially after such a hard day’s work.

“There is so much golf left,” Saso said. “The golf course is very difficult and the conditions are very difficult, especially with the wind swirling and when it’s blowing 15 miles an hour with firm greens and fast greens.”

It didn’t seem to hurt the amateur, especially Cernousek. He dropped just two shots, one of them on a 40-foot three-putt on the 14th hole, and held his nerve to beat par. She was amazed to see her name on every board.

“I was like, ‘Wow!’ I was looking at all the course rankings,” she said.

Talley is one of two 15-year-olds on the pitch at Lancaster and has played well above her age with smart decisions when coming out of position. Her only gaffe came on the par-5 seventh hole when she advanced her second shot only about 50 yards out of dense rough, she lay down and then put it in the water in front of the green. She made a triple bogey.

But Talley – his mother says Asterisk is Greek for “little star” – followed a nine-hole course with three birdies and six pars, not missing another shot until the 17th,

“I feel like I could have done a lot better today, but I’m not upset about my round at all,” Talley said. “I felt like everyone, even the par, it was a good round today. I would have liked to be a couple below par.”

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