ROGERS -- Nasa Hataoka can now begin house-hunting.
The 19-year-old rising star from Japan won her first career LPGA Tour event, blowing away the field at the LPGA Northwest Arkansas Championship on Sunday with a record 21-under par to shatter the tournament record by three strokes.
Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
At Pinnacle Country Club, Rogers
Player Rd1 Rd2 Rd3 Tot
Nasa Hataoka 64 65 63 192 (-21)
Austin Ernst 65 68 65 198 (-15)
Ryann O’Toole 67 68 65 200 (-13)
Sandra Gal 66 68 66 200 (-13)
Ally McDonald 66 67 67 200 (-13)
Lexi Thompson 67 64 69 200 (-13)
Minjee Lee 64 65 71 200 (-13)
Nasa Hataoka’s tee shot on the par 3, No. 3 hole got caught in the wind and landed short of the green. Nursing a narrow lead at the time, a bogey might have changed the entire complexion of the final round. Hataoka took her wedge and chipped into the green and the ball rolled into the cup for a birdie. She was never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
Rain moved through Northwest Arkansas in the early morning hours and send tournament officials scrambling. The start of play was delayed by an hour as the storms moved through, but the entire final round was played with just a few drops here and there.
“To be honest, I came into this week like I’ve never … I haven’t shown well here. I’ve had days, weeks where — or I should say years — that I’ve played great on Friday, the first day, and then the second day I play bad and either miss the cut or barely make it. So I haven’t had great luck here. I just feel like I’ve been playing well this year, so I felt like hey, I feel like I can make something of this week.”
— Ryann O’Toole
Hataoka entered Sunday's final round at Pinnacle Country Club tied with Minjee Lee, each at 13-under. Hataoka seized control when she chipped in for birdie from in front of the green on the par 3, No. 3 hole to take the tournament lead and never relinquished it.
"I [have] played with Lexi [Thompson] and all the big-name players. Playing with them was really big for me," Hataoka said through an interpreter. "Winning this tournament is so huge for me."
Hataoka has been one of the hottest players on tour the past seven events with five top-10 finishes. She came close to her first victory at the Kingsmill Championship in May, losing in a three-way playoff to Ariya Juntanugarn. Her $103,000 payday at Kingsmill represented about one-third of her career earnings.
Her payday at the Northwest Arkansas Championship of $300,000 almost matched her career earnings of $337,998 coming into the tournament. Hataoka already has plans for her winnings -- to purchase a house.
"It's been really tough in the off weeks not having a house," she said. "Just a place to rest, to practice. So I'm just really looking forward to having a house that I can go to."
The birdie at No. 3 seemed to give Hataoka a big confidence boost as she attacked the greens, softened by Sunday's rain showers that forced the start of play to be delayed by an hour. She birdied the par 4, No. 5 to go to 15-under, then birdied the par 5, No. 7 hole to move to 16-under as Lee and Thompson, who was also in the final grouping, fell farther behind.
"She had a fantastic chip on that hole," Thompson said. "It just trickled right in on the front edge."
Hataoka may have had her best fairway shot of the day on No. 8. From 140 yards out, she lofted an iron high into the overcast sky. The ball came down and solidly struck the right edge of the cup for a near eagle. An LPGA official had to be called in to repair the damage to the cup.
Hataoka settled for a par on the hole after her 12-foot comeback putt for birdie came up just short. Over the course of the 54-hole tournament, she finished with 40 consecutive non-bogey holes and was bogey-free over the final two rounds.
"She played amazing," said Thompson, who finished at 13-under. "That's actually the first or maybe the second time I have played with her. She's just got a great game, no weaknesses. She's pretty long off the tee and just rolls it on the greens. It was great to watch and it was definitely a well-deserved win."
As a rookie last season, Hataoka struggled on the tour, making just nine cuts in 17 starts and earning just $37,852. In last year's Northwest Arkansas Championship, she opened with a 69 but shot a 74 in the second round to miss the cut.
She had to go back to qualifying school to earn her LPGA card, but her game started to turn around in the fall when she won back-to-back events in her native Japan. Still, when she returned to the LPGA Tour in January, she missed the cut in two of her first three starts to this season.
Since April, she has made the top 20 twice, the top 10 five times and now has her first win. Even when she finished 58th at the Meijer Classic, she still walked away with a big prize after she aced the No. 14 hole in the third round to win a Kia Sorento. Soon, she'll have a garage in which to park her new car.
Her mother, Hiromi Hataoka, also joined her on the tour this year, which Nasa credits as having a big effect on her both on and off the course.
"Last year, I just really struggled, especially with eating," she said. "So my mom has helped me with that, to help me eat more healthy. That is probably the key to me playing better."
On Sunday, Hataoka made the turn at 17-under and within striking distance of the tournament record set last year by So Yeon Ryu at 18-under. She tied the mark with a birdie at No. 12, then finished the tournament with three birdies over the final four holes. Her approach on No. 18 left her about two feet from the pin, and she tapped in for birdie in front of a cheering grandstand.
Austin Ernst finished second at 15-under after a sizzling 6-under on Sunday. Ernst started slowly but caught fire on the back nine with four birdies.
"I made a long par putt coming back on No. 5 and that kind of kick-started me a little bit," Ernst said. "My putter felt a lot better on the back nine to where I actually rolled in a few. But really, just a solid round."
Nasa Hataoka kisses her trophy after winning the LPGA Northwest Arkansas Championship on Sunday at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers. Hataoka won by three strokes over Austin Ernst.
Sports on 06/25/2018
Print Headline: Hataoka earns runaway win