Hataoka keeps Marathon LPGA Classic with late birdie burst
SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Nasa Hataoka needed another birdie streak to hang onto the lead Friday in the Marathon LPGA Classic.
A day after making six straight birdies in an opening 10-under 61, the 22-year-old Japanese player had four in a row on Nos. 14-17 to salvage a 69.
“My shots were not as good as yesterday,” Hataoka said. “Didn’t have that many chances. I had a lot of problems, but I was able to fix that for the last part and bring it back up.”
Her lead was cut from four to two strokes, with American Mina Harigae second after her second straight bogey-free 66.
Hataoka had a 12-under 130 total at Highland Meadows. She played the first nine in 1 over with two birdies and three bogeys and dropped another shot on 13 before rallying with the late birdie burst.
“I was kind of stiff on impact and I was able to realize that and adjusted to relax myself and that brought those birdies,” Hataoka said.
The three-time LPGA Tour winner lost a playoff to Yuka Saso a month ago in the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. She took last week off after tying for 29th in Michigan and missing the cut in the KMPG Women’s PGA.
The 31-year-old Harigae is winless on the LPGA Tour.
“I feel really confident, comfortable with all aspects of my game,” Harigae said. “Just everything just kind of feels solid and everything is kind of flowing together, so it feels really good.”
Fellow U.S. players Alison Lee and Elizabeth Szokol each shot 66 to get to 9 under.
The resurgent Lee birdied the final three holes on the layout that closes with consecutive par 5s.
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen my name on the leaderboard like this,” Lee said. “Putting myself in contention for the weekend, it feels really, really good. It almost makes it as though two years didn’t happen, which is awesome to feel.”
Szokol also made a big move on Highland Meadows’ back nine, birdieing the last three and five of the final six in the round that began on No. 10.
“I’m just really looking forward to it — 36 more holes,” Szokol said. “I really like this golf course, so just see what the weekend brings. I’m excited to have fans back.”
Three more Americans — Jennifer Kupcho (65), Gerina Piller (65) and Lauren Stephenson (69) — were 8 under with Esther Henseleit (64) of Germany and Chella Choi (66) of South Korea.
Kupcho, Piller, Henseleit and Choi also birdied Nos. 17 and 18.
“I love coming back to this place,” Kupcho said. “This is where I came and played as an amateur, first LPGA event, so it’s always special. I love playing here.”
Defending champion Danielle Kang was 7 under after a 65.