KAWAGOE, Japan—Her biggest rivals for a medal—if not the gold—will literally be within sight when Yuka Saso tees off on Thursday as one of the hot favorites in women’s golf of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics here.
World No. 9 Saso, the reigning US Women’s Open champion, will be in a threesome with Lexi Thompson of the United States and Brooke Henderson of Canada, who are ranked eighth and 12th in the world, respectively, at 10:25 a.m. in one of the marquee pairings for the first round at Kasumigaseki Country Club’s east course.
In the flight ahead of them are the three podium finishers of the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where golf was reintroduced after an absence of 112 years: gold medalist Inbee Park of Korea, silver winner Lydia Ko and Shanshan Feng of China, the bronze medalist. The threesome behind them is made up of current world No. 1 Nelly Korda of the United States, No. 2 Jin Young-ko of Korea and 11th ranked Nasa Hataoka of Japan.
Bianca Pagdanganan, meanwhile, is up at 9:47 a.m. with Matilda Castren of Finland and Leona Maguire of Ireland.
“It’s a nice threesome for me and even those infront and ahead of us. They are players I look up to and I’m going to have fun for sure,” said Saso after her practice round with the 10th ranked Ko and briefly with teammate Pagdanganan.
The length of the Kasumigaseki, Saso said, will be the foremost opponent, with the undulating greens also testing their putting abilities in the chase for the medals.
“The overall mindset and preparation is the same in every tournament I play and nothing has changed. I’ll just go out there on the course, have fun and try to learn something from the pros I play with.”
It will mark Saso’s first matchup with Thompson since the American’s back nine collapse paved the way for her victory at Olympic Club in San Francisco early in June. Saso later on beat Nasa Hataoka of Japan in a playoff for her first major victory.
While Saso was able to sample the course twice already after arriving in Tokyo early, Pagdanganan tried it for the first time and was very impressed with the course setup.
Though it can easily be called a long-hitter’s course, accuracy and knowing where to land shots on the huge greens are the keys to getting a good score.
The Kasumigaseki east course, one of Japan’s oldest and most exclusive courses, played to 7,447 yards for the men’s event won by Xander Schauffele on Sunday but it will play to just 6,648 yards for the women. INQ
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