Golf

Philippine teen Yuka Saso wins 1st Major, thanks to Rory McIlroy

Saso, 19, clinches US Women's Open after studying Rory's swings on YouTube

Having spent countless hours emulating Rory McIlroy's swings, Philippine golfer Yuka Saso captured the four-time Major champion's attention en route to claiming the US Women's Open, her maiden Major crown yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The teenager announced her arrival on the big stage by battling back from a horrid start to best Japan's Nasa Hataoka in the third hole of a sudden-death play-off at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

At 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, Saso matched South Korea's Park Inbee to the day as the youngest champion at the women's game's oldest Major.

She also became the first Philippine player to win a golf Major.

Saso, who has dual nationality- her father is Japanese and her mother Filipino - said last week that while she has never met McIlroy, she has spent countless hours studying the Northern Irishman's swing on YouTube to try to emulate it.

When news of that reached McIlroy, the 32-year-old sent Saso a message of encouragement on Instagram on Sunday.

"Rory said, 'Get that trophy,' and I did. So thank you, Rory," she said with a laugh.

After her victory, McIlroy tweeted: "Everyone's going to be watching Yuka Saso swing videos on YouTube now. Congratulations!"

Saso shook off two early double bogeys in her final round, coming back with late birdies at holes 16 and 17 in a two-over 73 to thrust herself into a play-off with a four-under total of 280.

As overnight leader Lexi Thompson faded with a disappointing 75, Hataoka carded a final-round 68 with three birdies on her last six holes.

But, after both she and Saso parred both holes of the two-hole aggregate play-off, Hataoka was made to watch as Saso sank her winning shot.

SEALING THE WIN

Saso pumped her fist after drilling a 10-foot birdie putt to seal the win before having champagne poured on her to close out a picture-perfect day at the Lake Course.

"I was actually upset," she said about two double bogeys in her first three holes, which seemed to doom her chances.

"My caddie talked to me and said there are still many holes to go and to keep doing what I've been doing the past few days," she said."And to trust the process."

All week Saso enjoyed the vocal support of fans from nearby Daly City, which is home to a large Philippine population.

"There were so many people holding up Philippines flags," she said. "It made me really happy."

The play-off came after Thompson, who led by four strokes after her first nine holes, collapsed on the back nine.

The 26-year-old American was eyeing her elusive second Major title after carding a bogey-free 66 a day earlier.

But Thompson struggled with her accuracy off the tee on the back nine.

She missed a crucial par putt on 17 as well as one on 18 that would have seen her into the play-off.

"I really didn't feel like I hit any bad golf shots," said Thompson.

"That's what this golf course can do to you, and that's what I've said all week." - AFP, REUTERS

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