Hataoka opens up six-shot gap at LPGA Marathon Classic

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Japanese star Nasa Hataoka will take a commanding six-stroke lead into the final round of the LPGA Marathon Classic after firing a seven-under 64 on Saturday in Sylvania, Ohio.

The 22-year-old soared back up the leaderboard in the third round to reach a 19-under 194 total at the Highland Meadows Golf Club course.

Starting the day with a two stroke lead, Hataoka widened the gap by hitting 17 of 18 fairways and rolling in eight birdies. Her only blemish was a three putt bogey on the par-four third hole.

“When I was first here, it was my rookie year and I really played awful. So when I'm playing the way I am right now, it really makes me think how much I have grown up,” said Hataoka. “Right now I'm not going to think about winning. I'm just going to concentrate on playing my best.”

Americans Elizabeth Szokol and Mina Harigae are tied for second at 13-under 200.

Germany's Esther Henseleit is in solo fourth at 12 under and U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso, of the Philippines, is tied for fifth at 11 under. This is Saso's first time playing in a non-major tournament as a full-time Tour member.

After opening the $2 million tournament with the lowest opening round score on the LPGA in almost seven years (61), Hataoka shot a 69 in the second round thanks to a strong back nine.

She set a 54-hole tournament scoring record with her 19-under 194 score, surpassing Pak Se-ri in 1998, Paula Creamer in 2008 and Yi Eun-jung in 2009.

Hataoka has led or co-led a tournament after 54 holes just twice before, winning the 2018 Arkansas Championship and finishing runner-up at the Pure Silk Championship one year later. If she wins Sunday, she would become just the second Japanese player in US LPGA Tour history with four titles. She has half a dozen wins on the Japan Tour.

Szokol, who is in her third season, is seeking her first win on the Tour. She has a lot of ground to make up on Hataoka but says the course is designed for low scores.

“There are so many birdies out there,” said Szokol.

Defending champion Danielle Kang is tied for ninth with at seven under, nine shots adrift of Hataoka.

Korean-American Tiffany Joh wrapped up her LPGA Tour career on Friday by missing the cut as she shot a one-over 73. The 11-year veteran announced that she would retire after the tournament.