Yuka Saso is Next Pinay Athlete to Chase Gold in Tokyo Olympics

She's fresh off a U.S. Women's Open victory.
Photo/s: Sean Haffrey/Getty Images North America via Agence France-Presse

Up next in Filipinas raising the flag in the Tokyo Olympics -- golfer Yuka Saso, who is tipped for a podium finish.

The Philippines is assured of three medals, two of them women, a gold medal from weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and at least a silver from boxer Nesthy Petecio, who will fight for gold on Tuesday. Boxer Eumir Marcial is assured of at least a bronze.

The first major winner from the Philippines at the U.S. Women's Open in June, Saso could become just the second or third Olympic gold medal winner in history. She would be a popular winner at Tokyo 2020 as her father is Japanese.

The 20-year-old models her swing on her idol, Rory McIlroy, and had the opportunity to watch him up close at Kasumigaseki Country Club in the men's event.

"Watching him rip it is really good," Saso said after following the four-time major winner during round one on Thursday. The pair were spotted sharing tips on the practice ground over the next few days.

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"I feel very lucky him saying 'Hi' to me or greeting me in any way so I'll treasure it."

MORE ON FILIPINA ATHLETES IN TOKYO 2020

The Tokyo Olympics women's golf tournament begins Wednesday at Kasumigaseki Country Club near Saitama following the high-drama of a gripping men's event which ended in a seven-way playoff for bronze on Sunday.

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All three Rio Olympics medallists, Park In-bee, Lydia Ko and Feng Shanshan, are back for another shot at glory for their countries in an elite field of 60 players which contains all the current top 10 in the world rankings and 16 of the top 20.

Here, AFP Sport highlights the players to watch, aside from Saso.

Park In-bee (KOR)

The Rio gold medallist admitted the stress she suffered back home in South Korea to win at the 2016 Olympics was the worst she had ever encountered and it almost crushed her -- remarkable for a seven-time major winner.

More relaxed this year, she is aiming for nothing less than a second gold to sit in the trophy cabinet her father built in her house.

"It's a little bit different to 2016," she said about the lack of spectators this week. "But the same result would be nice, right?"

Lydia Ko (NZL)

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Precocious young talent and then silver medallist in Rio, Ko endured a slump in form before ending a three-year win drought at the Lotte Championship in April.

The South Korean-born Ko took the world of golf by storm in 2012 at the age of 14 when she became the youngest player, male or female, to win a professional tournament at the New South Wales Open.

At 15 she was the youngest player to win a US LPGA Tour event and at the age of 18 was the youngest to capture a major at the 2015 Evian Championship.

Back in form, don't be surprised if she challenges the podium again.

"I'm super excited for the Tokyo Olympics," she said. "I've always felt very proud to fly the New Zealand flag." 

Nelly Korda (USA)

She reached number one in the world this year after winning her first major at the US Women's PGA Championship a the end of June.

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Korda is one half of a sister act with older, 15th-ranked sibling Jessica in a four-woman USA team which also fields Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang.

She won the 2019 Women's Australian Open to complete a "Family Slam" in Australia. Her father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open singles in tennis.

Her older sister, Jessica, won the Women's Australian Open in 2012 and her younger brother, Sebastian, won the 2018 tennis Australian Open junior boys championship.

"There's no experience like representing Team USA," she said this week.

Minjee Lee (AUS)

Lee is in top form after making a career-defining breakthrough just over a week ago when she won her maiden major at the Evian Championship in France after a stunning final-round comeback.

She started the day seven shots off the pace, but carded a brilliant 64 and eventually beat Lee Jeong-eun in a play-off, tying the record for the largest deficit overcome to win a women's major.

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Lee's triumph came just a couple of weeks after her brother, Min Woo, won the Scottish Open for his biggest professional victory.

Lee finished tied seventh at the Rio Olympics, two strokes outside the bronze medal position, largely down to a disappointing third-round two-over par 73.

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