ROGERS, ARK | After taking a week off amid an unremarkable season, Yuka Saso returned to competition in style. She turned in a bogey-free, 7-under performance early in the opening round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
The game plan she cooked up during her week off that helped her to the top of the leaderboard was simple:
“Hit good tee shots, hit the green, and hopefully make a putt,” Saso said.
The hardest part of that plan is – of course – the execution. So, to be a little more specific, it was Saso’s consistency and precision that launched her into contention. On a short course like Pinnacle Country Club, precise approaches become the difference maker. Last year, Nasa Hataoka hit 90.7% of her greens in regulation en route to her second NW Arkansas Championship title. For Saso, strong approaches start at the tee.
“(Precision is) pretty important (here),” Saso said. “You have to hit a good shot off the tee so you can give yourself a chance at the green. And you have to putt well.”
With her focus on playing with accuracy, Saso was steady throughout her round, not finding any streaks or slumps. She began her day on the back nine with birdies on 10 and 18 before turning things around and notching five more birdies on holes 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8. She made par everywhere else, a mistake nowhere in sight.
“My shots were very consistent today,” Saso said. “I didn't really miss any shots. I chipped really well and my putting was pretty good too. I think it was pretty calm round.”
Friday’s result was a return to form for Saso, who has struggled for most of the 2022 season after her breakout win at the 2021 US Women’s Open presented by ProMedica that began her LPGA Tour career. After finishing sixth at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and third at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, Saso has missed the cut seven times in 17 starts and has yet to finish in the top 10. Her last top-20 finish came at the Cognizant Founders Cup in May where she tied for 12th.
Saso has struggled to accept her mediocre performances this year and is known to be hard on herself at times. Even with a scoring performance like today, she could still come off the course a touch disappointed.
“Even though I might (shoot) 3-under, 4-under, as long as I was happy with how I played I will be happy,” Saso explained. “But sometimes when I (shoot) 5-under and I feel like I could have done better, then I feel a little low. I think it depends on the situations, how I played.”
With seven birdies, no bogeys and a consistently precise performance, the question is: is Yuka Saso happy with today’s results?
“I’m very happy.” As she absolutely should be.