Saso Leads U.S. Women's Open; Burnham Is T12 after 66
June 4, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO -- Yuka Saso is a 19 year old from the Philippines who plays primarily on the LPGA of Japan Tour, but she has played in three LPGA Tour majors in the United States during the last six months, and there seems to be a pattern to her performances. In each case, she has opened with a 69.
Last December, she did it in the re-scheduled 2020 U.S. Women's Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, where she followed the 69 with a 71 and was tied for sixth place before falling back with a third-round 77. She bounced back with a closing 72 in wet, frigid conditions and tied for 13th at 289. Saso did it again in April at the ANA Inspiration, a first-round 69 at Mission Hills Country Club and a second-round 71. Her 36-hole total of 140 had her tied for 12th. Once again, she posted a 77 in the third round, but this time, they were playing in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and the conditions were just about ideal for scoring. So her final-round 71 could only move her up into a tie for 50th at 288.
Could the third time be the charm?
This week, Saso opened with a 2-under-par 69 at in the 2021 U.S. Women's Open at The Olympic Club, and she improved on it with a 67 on Friday in the second round, for a 36-hole aggregate of 136. As a result, she's leading by a stroke. Jeoneun Lee6, who won this tournament in 2019, is in second place after she followed a 70 with a 67.
Megha Ganne, the 17-year-old amateur who hasn't even finished her junior year of high school yet, was the first-round leader with a 67. She got off to a rocky start on Friday, with two bogeys in her first seven holes, but she rallied for a 71 and is tied for third at 138, along with Megan Khang, who followed 68 with a 70.
Shanshan Feng is alone in fifth at 139, after shooting 70 on Friday.
The day's best round -- and the lowest score of the tournament so far -- was put together by Sarah Burnham, the former Minnesota state high school champion from Wayzata (that's where she went to high school, even though she lived in Maple Grove). Starting the day outside the cut line (top 60 and ties) after a first-round 76, Burnham made six birdies, all of them on putts from inside of 15 feet. She made one late bogey and finished with a 66, which vaulted her into a tie for 12th at 142.
A former three-time All-American at Michigan State who is in her third year on the LPGA Tour, Burnham has been known to make birdies in bunches. In the 2017 Big Ten Conference Championships, she set the tournament record with a 63 that included 11 birdies, six of which came in succession. She finished second in that tournament.
The Olympic Club is a really difficult course. It's not that long, at 6,362 yards this week, but it's playing considerably longer than that because of the heavy air and cold temperatures, which have been in the 50's for most of the week, Friday included. Those are not conditions conducive to low scores, but Burnham got off to a quick start, with a birdie at the 530-yard, par-5 first hole and another at the 385-yard, par-4 second, one of the toughest holes on the course.
"I stuck it really close on 2," she said afterward. "I kind of pushed it out to the right, but the wind was blowing left; so it curved in there pretty nice."
She made another two in a row at the sixth (385 yards, par 4) and the short par-4 seventh (263 yards). After pars at the eighth and ninth, Burnham made another birdie at the 10th (395 yards, par 4), and she got to 6 under for the day with yet another birdie at the 404-yard, par-4 14th. The 16th is a par 5, and par-5's are normally considered birdie holes, but 16 at Olympic is an exception to the rule, a long par 5 with a very narrow fairway, and that was where Burnham made her lone bogey Friday.
This is the second time Burnham has played in the Women's Open. The first was in 2015, when she missed the cut.
"I've grown a ton since then," she said. "I was a freshman in college, and now I'm 25. Going through college anbd getting better there has helped me tremendously to get me where I am today."
And the difference between the way she played Thursday and the way she played Friday?
"I hit a lot more greens," she noted. "I struggled yesterday to start out with. I didn't hit many fairways; so it was tough to hit greens. If you're even in the first cut, you can have such a bad lie that you are not getting to the green."
Ganne, by the way, wasn't the only 17-year-old in the field this week. Bella McCauley, at 17 years and 5 months (as of Sunday), is the youngest girl from Minnesota to qualify for a U.S. Open. She got the second of two spots available at Somerset by shooting a 1-under 143 for 36 holes. That put the 2019 state high school champ from Simley -- actually, she's home-schooled, but lives in the Simley district -- one stroke behind Burnham, who was the medalist, and one ahead of Lindy Duncan, a former four-time All-American at Duke who was the first alternate.
(The previous record-holder for youngest Minnesotan to play in the Women's Open was Hilary Homeyer, who was 17 when she qualified in 1997, but was 18 when she actually played in the tournament at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland. Six years later, having gotten married, Hilary Lunke won the Open at that same Pumpkins Ridge course in an 18-hole Monday playoff with Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins.)
On Thursday, McCauley was going along pretty well, 2 over par through 10 holes at Olympic, having started at the ninth hole, and then hit a really bad patch. She made consecutive double bogeys at the first and second holes, and a bogey at the third, and made another two bogeys at the fifth and sixth -- 7 over in six holes -- on the way to an 80. Not all that unusual for someone playing in the Open for the first time.
What was unusual was the way McCauley turned things around on Friday. On those six holes (1 through 6) where she encountered disaster in Round 1, she was 1 under par in Round 2 -- five pars and a birdie at the sixth. She went on to make two birdies and two bogeys on the back nine, signed for a 70 and missed the cut by only two strokes with a 150, one stroke behind the defending Women's Open champion, A Lim Kim, who shot 79-70--149 and missed the cut by one.
One of the two players Kim beat by a stroke to win the tournament in December was Amy Olson, the former two-time Minnesota PGA Junior Girls champ -- when she was Amy Anderson, before she got married -- and U.S. Junior girls champ (2009) from Oxbow, N.D. Olson has made three birdies in each of the first two rounds, and she reduced her bogeys from five on Thursday to four on Friday. All of which added up to 73-72--145, and she's tied for 28th.
2021 U.S. Women's Open
At The Olympic Club
Par 71, 6,362 yards
1. Yuka Saso 69-67--136
2. Jeongeun Lee6 70-67--137
T3. Megha Ganne (A) 67-71--138
T3. Megan Khang 68-70--138
5. Shanshan Feng 69-70--139
T6. Lexi Thompson 69-71--140
T6. Inbee Park 71-69--140
T6. Mel Reid 71-69--140
T12. Sarah Burnham 76-66--142
T28. Amy Olson 73-72--145
Missed cut (148)
T75. Bella McCauley 80-70--150
T100. Kim Kaufman 74-79--153