Nasa Hataoka furthered the storyline of feel-good stories on home soil with her victory at the Toto Japan Classic. The 19-year-old carded a 5-under 67 to take her second LPGA title of the year and add to the list of players who have accomplished stirring victories in their native lands, joining Brooke Henderson in Canada; Georgia Hall at the Ricoh Women’s British Open; and South Korea and In Gee Chun at the UL International Crown and Hana Bank, respectively.
“I am happy that I won in front of Japanese fans,” said Hataoka. “I wanted to show how I improved playing in U.S.”
Japanese players put on quite the show in Shinga, with Momoko Ueda and Saki Nagamine taking a share of second with Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, two shots back.
Hataoka’s $225,000 paycheck brings her to $1,401,440 for the season. It’s a far cry from 2017, Hataoka’s rookie season, when she won only $37,852. The rough start sent her back to LPGA Q-School, where she medaled in the final stage and never looked back.
Minjee Lee opened the final round with a three-stroke lead but tumbled down the board after an opening 43 that included two double bogeys. Lee’s closing 78 dropped her to a share of 15th.
“Yeah, it was just, I don’t know, maybe a lot of brain farts in a row,” said Lee. “But I didn’t really hit – I didn’t hit the shots that I wanted very solid, so obviously it didn’t go the way I wanted.”
Still, it was a solid Asian swing for the Aussie, who went T-3/T-14/2nd/T-14 in four starts.
Hataoka birdied the final hole to give the home fans a lasting thrill. She began the day four strokes back of Lee but came out hot with five birdies in the opening 10 holes. Things got a little dicey though for the young Japanese star after back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12.
“If I bogey 13 I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “That par turned 14th to birdie. No. 13, I hit tee shot into left rough, 164 yards to the pin. I hit 7-iron short, (leaving) 28 yards with pitching wedge. Tried to roll the ball and settled 3 feet from the pin. I learned this type of approach after I started playing in U.S. I asked my caddie what kind of slope the green is, to make sure ball rolls toward pin.”
That’s the beauty of Hataoka – she’s eager to keep learning. Immediately after securing her second title of the season, the woman named after the U.S. space program let everyone know what she needs to do to reach higher.
“Now my goal is to win at four-day event, because both event that I won was three days,” she said. “I need to strengthen my physical to do that. And I like to prepare for majors next year.”
At 5-foot-2, Hataoka is slight in stature but still packs a punch, ranking 40th on the LPGA in driving distance. She’s also second in putts per GIR and sixth in overall putting average at 28.95. She moved to fourth on the money list after Toto and is projected to move to 10th in the Rolex Rankings.
Hataoka has eight additional top-10 finishes to go with her two victories, including a runner-up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she lost in a playoff.
World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn’s season keeps getting richer. After locking up her second Rolex Player of the Year title with three events left, Jutanugarn clinched the 2018 money title and Leaders Top 10 competition after a T-19 finish in Japan.
Now, with two events remaining, no one can catch Jutanugarn’s mark of $2,475,880. She’s $937,489 ahead of second-place Lee, who has $1,538,391. There’s $815,000 in first-place prize money remaining in 2018.
Additionally, Jutanugarn’s 15 top-10 finishes in 26 starts makes her unreachable with only one eligible event remaining in the Leaders Top 10 competition. Jin Young Ko and Lee have each earned 13 top-10s thus far. Jutanugarn will earn a $100,000 bonus for her mark of consistency. Gwk