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    U.S. Women’s Open: Yuka Saso Wins, Extending a Majors Drought by Americans

    Yuka Saso of the Philippines won her first major, beating Nasa Hataoka of Japan in the first sudden-death playoff hole after they remained tied after two-hole aggregate playoff.SAN FRANCISCO — Yuka Saso of the Philippines bent her leg like a flamingo, using her body language to will in the birdie putt. It was the first playoff hole after Saso and Nasa Hataoka of Japan finished 72 holes of the 76th United States Women’s Open on Sunday tied at four-under 280, one stroke better than the third-round leader, the American Lexi Thompson.But Saso had been responding to Hataoka’s putt, and when it fell short, she looked more disappointed than her opponent. After prevailing on the first hole of sudden death — the third playoff hole — when her own birdie putt dropped, Saso, 19, explained her reaction.“I just don’t want to be selfish,” Saso said. “Everyone here is a great player. If it’s their time, it’s their time, if it’s my time, it’s my time. I just want to cheer everybody.”As she stood staring at the trophy, Saso, a first-time major winner, looked as if she couldn’t quite believe that her time had arrived. Both players had parred on the two aggregate playoffs holes before Saso’s birdie putt tied her with Inbee Park as the youngest champion in the tournament’s history.“I was just looking at all the great players in here,” Saso said. “I can’t believe my name is going to be here.”It definitely didn’t appear to be Saso’s day when she posted consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3 to drop five strokes behind Thompson at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course.“I was actually a little upset,” Saso said. “But my caddie talked to me and said, ‘Just keep on going; there’s many more holes to go.’ That’s what I did.”Thompson was trying to win her second major title, and her first since 2014, and snap a 10-major winless streak by American women.Thompson had a one-stroke lead to start the round and held a five-stroke lead over Saso with nine to play, but faltered as Saso surged. She had a bogey-bogey finish to close with a 75. That was nine strokes higher than her third-round score.Speaking while the playoff was getting underway, Thompson said, “I just wanted to come out today and play my game like I have the last few days.”Thompson added, “Just got a few bad breaks, but that’s golf.”Thompson, 26, knew the final round was going to be a nervy game of musical holes. For her to be the last one standing when the holes ran out, she was going to have to break with venerable Olympic Club tradition. Webb Simpson rallied from four strokes off the lead to win the men’s Open at the Olympic Club in 2012. Lee Janzen came from five back to win here in 1998. Arnold Palmer frittered away a seven-stroke advantage on the final nine in 1966, then lost a playoff to Billy Casper, who birdied four of his final holes. Scott Simpson, no relation to Webb, closed with a 68 to pass Tom Watson in 1987.Nasa Hataoka of Japan reacts after missing a putt on No. 18.Jeff Chiu/Associated PressHataoka, playing in the group directly ahead of Thompson, went on a Casper-esque charge with birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 15. Saso gained three strokes on Thompson on the 16th and 17th, both par 5s, drawing even with her at four under after she birdied both.Playing in the final group alongside Thompson and Saso was Megha Ganne, 17, a high school junior from Holmdel, N.J.The last time a U.S. Open was held at Olympic Club, a 17-year-old amateur also began the final round lurking four strokes off the lead, as did Ganne. The previous teenage interloper was Beau Hossler, who struggled to a 76 and finished tied for 29th.Ganne hit her drive on the par-5 first hole into deep rough, leading to her first double bogey of the tournament. It was a harbinger of the grind that was ahead for Ganne, who closed with a 77 to finish tied for 14th, one stroke ahead of the next-best amateur, Maja Stark of Sweden (74).“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Ganne said.Lexi Thompson of the United States reacts to her first putt on No. 17. Sean M. Haffey/Getty ImagesThompson was battling history’s headwinds, too. A U.S.-born woman hadn’t won a major since Angela Stanford at the 2018 Evian Championship, and in the five men’s Opens held at the Olympic Club, none of the 54-hole leaders held on to win.And then there was Thompson’s personal travails in the majors. Since winning the 2014 ANA Inspiration, she had endured several near misses, posting eight top-five finishes, including a playoff defeat at the 2017 ANA Inspiration after a television viewer’s observation led to a four-stroke penalty being tacked to her score on the final day.Through it all, she preserved traces of the playful, unaffected 12-year-old that qualified for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. They were there in her good-luck ladybug earrings, which she wore on Sunday, and her willingness to engage with younger players like Ganne.Pro is a little word that can pack a bite far deeper than its breadth, and Thompson, who shed her amateur status in 2010, at age 15, was not immune to the loneliness, the self-doubts, the tedium of spending months away from home and the rootlessness of living out of a suitcase that come with playing for pay. Bright-eyed amateurs see only the blessings: the supportive fans, the immaculate courses, the fine clubhouse dining.And so if she was to get back to her playful, unaffected teenage self, Thompson needed to redirect her focus so that she viewed golf as play and not as work. She enlisted the help of a psychologist based in Florida, John Denney, with whom she had worked early in her career, and their conversations, which they have several times a week, have helped her flip the switch. From feeling anxiety or anguish to gratitude. From feeling burdened by pressure to blessed by opportunities.Thompson walked the walk. She forced a smile as she exited the 18th green after her approach, from 109 yards, found a bunker, and after she blasted out to 12 feet and left the par putt short.Thompson’s eyes welled with tears and her voice quavered. She smiled wanly and said, “Yeah, I played not so good today with a few of the bogeys coming in on the back nine.She added, “I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years.” More

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    U.S. Women’s Open: December Date for Brings New Challenges

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesBritain’s Vaccine RolloutVaccine TrackerFAQ: Vaccines and MoreAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDecember Date for U.S. Women’s Open Brings New ChallengesGolf’s final major tournament is set to play in Houston with coronavirus-related challenges, an unprecedented two-course format, and one of women’s golf’s largest purses.Former world No. 1 golfer Ariya Jutanugarn, left, and her sister Moriya both tested positive for the coronavirus in November. “It’s tough because I know my body isn’t 100 percent yet,” Ariya said Wednesday, ahead of opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open.Credit…Carlos Osorio/Associated PressDec. 10, 2020Updated 8:16 a.m. ETHOUSTON — The PGA Tour does not have a 72-hole stroke play event this week, and several weekend college football games, including the marquee matchup between Michigan and Ohio State, have been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus, leaving the best female golfers in the world well positioned to fill the TV viewing void.This weekend, the L.P.G.A. contests the United States Women’s Open, its most lucrative major tournament, pushed back six months from its original date by the pandemic, on a stage cleared of some of the usual obstacles that can overshadow women’s golf in America. The spotlight it offers is in many ways tailored for Ariya Jutanugarn.Jutanugarn, 25, a former women’s world No. 1 from Thailand, generates tremendous clubhead speed and can produce birdies in bunches when she gets on a roll. But she tested positive for coronavirus before an L.P.G.A. event in Florida last month. In her final practice round this week, Jutanugarn did not look like the same player who was crowned Open champion in 2018 or even the same one who tied for sixth during an L.P.G.A. stop in Georgia in late October.Playing the back nine of the Cypress Creek course in a group that included her older sister, Moriya, 26, Jutanugarn consistently fell a few paces behind the others because of what she described as a lingering effect of the virus.“Every time when I play I walk really slow because my heart rate is up so high. But I just have to deal with it.”A month after her diagnosis, she continues to grapple with fatigue and headaches. The barbecue for which Texas is famous, a staple in players’ dining, is largely lost on her because she hasn’t regained her sense of smell or taste.“It’s tough because I know my body isn’t 100 percent yet,” Jutanugarn said. “I just have to deal with it and do my best, and make sure I take good care of my body.”They’re playing in a Christmas-themed bubble.The poinsettia centerpieces on the Nos. 1 and 10 tee snack tables don’t fool the players. They are acutely aware that Christmas isn’t quite here yet.“Coming into these two weeks, this past week or two that I was home, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be in a bubble,” said Lexi Thompson, the No. 11-ranked player. “I’m not taking the chance of testing positive coming into the two most important weeks of the year.”Tim Tucker, center, is moonlighting this week on the bag for Lexi Thompson, right. He usually caddies for the P.G.A. golfer Bryson DeChambeau.Credit…Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesStill, it’s 2020. So despite the best made bubbles, stuff happens. On Wednesday, the United States Golf Association announced that Andrea Lee, who had tested negative for the coronavirus before the Volunteers of America Classic outside Dallas and spent last week ensconced in the L.P.G.A. bubble, tested positive for the virus upon arriving in Houston and had withdrawn from the Open.Jutanugarn breathed a sigh of relief Monday after passing her pre-event coronavirus test. Despite being in a featured group alongside two other former champions, Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu, Jutanugarn said her expectations were low.In her return to competition after quarantining, she finished tied for 62nd. Moriya, who had tested positive at the same time as her sister, also made her competitive return at the Volunteers of America Classic and tied for 16th.“Last week when I walked 18 holes I passed out because I was so tired,” Ariya Jutanugarn said.All is not necessarily lost. Last month, Dustin Johnson won the rescheduled Masters a month after testing positive for the coronavirus in a pretournament test. Like Jutanugarn, he isolated for at least 10 days and returned for the final tuneup event.On Masters Sunday, Jutanugarn said, she turned on the TV, intending to watch Johnson’s final round. But she was feeling feverish and her head was throbbing. “I fell asleep for four hours, I woke up and he had finished,” she said.It’ll take two courses to get the full field in before dark.The challenge for Jutanugarn, and the rest of the Open’s competitors, is compounded because this year, for the first time, the tournament is being played on two courses to accommodate a full 156-woman field in fading winter daylight.Cypress Creek, where three of the four rounds will be contested, is long, with massive greens. The second course, Jackrabbit, where each contender will play one of the first two days, is a tighter layout, with contouring around the smaller green complexes. To play both well requires the versatility of a Formula One driver who could also be competitive in NASCAR.Stacy Lewis, a two-time major winner who is a member of Champions Club, knows both courses well. “I think in everybody’s head you say, ‘We’re going to play Cypress three times, my focus is going to go that way more than the other one,’” she said. “And then you have a bad day on Jackrabbit and you’re not even playing the next two. I know people have asked me and I’ve told them, ‘Pay attention to Jackrabbit.’”There’s a lot of money on the line this weekend and next.For Jin Young Ko, the U.S. Women’s Open is only her third L.P.G.A. event in 2020. The world No. 1 has remained in her native South Korea since the Covid-19 outbreak took hold in America.Credit…David J. Phillip/Associated PressThe next two weeks have the players’ full focus. Both the U.S. Women’s Open and next week’s finale in Florida offer a winner’s check of at least $1 million. The U.S. Open will pay out $5.5 million and the purse for the Tour Championship will be the fifth-highest in the women’s game this year at $3 million, a haul that makes this stretch comparable only to the mid-August-to-September span during which two other majors — the Women’s British Open and the AIN Inspiration — were contested.“To be honest, it feels weird because I’m playing in December around Christmas Day, so it’s the first time,” said Jin Young Ko, the women’s world No. 1. “But the course is tough and then everyone look nervous, too, so it’s fun.”Fun? Danielle Kang, who has won twice since the tour’s July restart, is accompanied this week by her boyfriend, Maverick McNealy, who plays on the PGA Tour. McNealy is one of several male players, including major winners Jason Day and Bryson DeChambeau, who have thrown their support behind the L.P.G.A. this week by posting messages on social media with the hashtag #WomenWorthWatching. DeChambeau’s regular caddie, Tim Tucker, is moonlighting this week on the bag for Lexi Thompson.Asked the best piece of advice that she has received from McNealy, Kang, a one-time major winner, said, “Just relax. It’s the U.S. Open. Everyone is stressed out.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More