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Saso—despite 70—stays in the hunt

Yuka Saso finds herself two strokes off the lead halfway through the tournament in Okayama, Japan.

YUKA SASO remained victim to the JFE Setonaikai Golf Club course’s par-five holes but with some stroke of luck, a two-under 70 in the second round of the Japan Ladies Professional Golfers Association Konica Minolta Championship on Friday pushed her two strokes behind new leader Hee Kyung Bae.

The 19-year-old Saso set  blistering pace with three straight birdies she capped with a birdie-4 at No. 6, but faltered with a bogey-6 at No. 9.

That bogey slowed the reigning Asian Games champion down as she managed a lone birdie coming home at the 14th hole.

Then came the par-5 18th which she again bogeyed to settle for nines of 36-36, par for the Okayama course but two shots off Bae, who is out for vindication after missing the cut at the NItori Ladies and Golf5 Ladies.

Bae, 28, carded a 67 for a 136 total to catapult herself atop the leaderboard, highlighting her round with six birdies stained by a lone bogey-5 at No. 12.

First round joint leaders Min-Young Lee and Serena Aoki yielded to the conditions made tough by rain in morning play.

Ayako Kimura grabbed the lead at 9-under overall with a birdie on No. 12 but the veteran who tied for 40th in the same tournament last year, bogeyed three of the next four holes and blew a four-foot birdie bid on the 18th.

Kimura closed out with a 71 to fall to joint second at 138 with the International Container Terminal Services Inc.-backed Saso, Rieru Shibusawa (66), Sayaka Takahashi (68) and Yuna Nishimura (68).

Teresa Lu, the 2015 champion, matched par 72 for a 139 to tie Hikari Tanabe (70), Momo Yoshikawa (68), Saki Nagamine (70) and last week’s Golf5 Ladies champion Sakura Koiwai (71).

Bae, who hit just two fairways but still shot a 69 in the first round, rebounded with a scorching long game, nailing three birdies in the last five holes in a backside start. She sank two more birdies in the last four holes at the front to wrest control in the ¥200 million tournament that serves as the Tour’s first major championship.

The frontrunners, however, have to contend with a slew of chasers who stood two or three strokes behind—and several fancied bets staying within striking distance.

The champion on Sunday will bank ¥36 million.

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