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Japan's Yuka Saso first-round leader at CPKC Women's Open in Vancouver

VANCOUVER — The biggest challenge Japan's Yuka Saso faced at the CPKC Women's Open were the bugs at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.
Yuka Saso, of Japan, makes a birdie putt on the seventh hole during the first round at the LPGA CPKC Canadian Women's Open golf tournament, in Vancouver, on Thursday, August 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — The biggest challenge Japan's Yuka Saso faced at the CPKC Women's Open were the bugs at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.

Saso fired a 6-under 66 in the morning wave on Thursday in the first round of the Canadian women's golf championship, for a three-stroke clubhouse lead. The course played tougher in the afternoon with Sweden's Linn Grant shooting a 5-under 67 to sit alone in second.

"I just hit it good and gave myself good chances and was able to take it," said Saso as the afternoon groups teed off. "I think I was just trying to be patient with the mosquitoes. 

"There was a lot of mosquitoes. The bug spray helped a lot. The wind, too."

Saso started on the 10th tee and played even-par golf for her first nine holes but got hot coming out of the turn. She fired four-straight birdies on Nos. 1-4, adding two more on Nos. 6 and 7.

"First nine was pretty stable. Hit it OK. Putted OK," said Saso. "I don't know what happened the back nine. I started hitting some good second shots and having short putts for birdies, giving myself a lot of chances."

Based on her practice round and how the morning wave played, Grant realized that Shaughnessy was going to play considerably harder in the afternoon.

"It's really narrow off the tee and if you get in the rough it's kind of hard to get the ball to stop on the greens because they're so firm and so tiny and they're fast," said Grant, who was surprised to be 5 under on the day. "So I think you've got everything on this golf course. 

"If you're not ready for it it's going to hit you when you go out there."

Hamilton's Alena Sharp was the low Canadian with a 3-under 69. Sharp was tied for third with China's Weiwei Zhang, Americans Rose Zhang and Danielle Kang, as well as South Korea's Sei Young Kim and Jin Young Ko.

At 42-years-old, Sharp is the oldest Canadian at the event. She said that even though she has played in the national championship 18 times, she still gets nervous playing in Canada.

"I feel like every Canadian will say the same thing. Whether you're on the LPGA or PGA you always want to do well at home," said Sharp. "There is always a little bit extra pressure. Obviously we do it to ourselves.

"I could feel the nerves a little bit yesterday and then this morning. But I shook it off. Held on."

Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., is the top-ranked Canadian on the LPGA Tour but struggled on Thursday. She finished the day tied for 72nd at 3-over 75. 

"I just wasn't sharp today so hopefully just go out tomorrow morning early, get off to a quick start, make more birdies," said the 11th-ranked Henderson. "It's a really tough golf course. It can really jump up and bite you sometimes. 

"If you get on the right side of momentum you can make things happen, and hopefully that's what I'll do tomorrow."

The 25-year-old Henderson wore glasses for the first time in a competitive round on Thursday. She joked that her improved vision was a mixed blessing.

"At least I could see my ball in the bush, which was kind of a good thing I guess," laughed Henderson. "No, it made it a lot easier on me, a lot less strain.

"I didn't have to ask (caddy and sister Brittany Sepanik) where it was every time I hit it."

There is a total of 15 Canadians in the field, including 10 amateurs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press