Hataoka loses three-shot lead late in LPGA finale



The Japan Times



Nasa Hataoka gave up a three-stroke lead during the final round of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship on Sunday, with her share of second place meaning she ends the season without a win on the LPGA Tour for the first time since 2020. The 24-year-old started the day tied for the lead with Amy Yang, but a 3-under 69 was bettered by a 66 from the South Korean winner at Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course in Naples, Florida. American Alison Lee finished tied with Hataoka in second with a 24-under 264 total. “It’s disappointing I couldn’t improve my score,” said Hataoka, who could not get her seventh win on tour and first since April last year after carding four birdies and a bogey. “I wavered on the back nine. It’s frustrating I couldn’t provide myself with chances.” Yuna Nishimura had a 67 and finished in a tie for 13th, 10 strokes behind Hataoka. Ayaka Furue was a further shot behind and ended in a tie for 16th, with Yuka Saso tied for 23rd another shot back. Birdies on Nos. 1 and 5 for Hataoka and a bogey on the third from Yang left the Japanese with a three-shot lead, before three birdies and then an eagle on the par-4 13th allowed Yang to take the advantage. Hataoka bogeyed the 16th before missing a 2-meter birdie putt on the 17th to finish in second place, as she did in 2021. Yang birdied her last two holes and won the $2 million first prize. “I managed to play with confidence but fell short,” said Hataoka, who held at least a share of the lead from the opening round and took positives from her best finish of the season. “I have to win next time. “I hope to return stronger.” Yang said she was “really nervous” as they dueled down the stretch, knowing that Hataoka could seize the momentum at any moment. “I had no idea where this was going,” Yang said. “All I could do was just stick to my game and trust it.” The victory was especially satisfying in the wake of injury concerns that Yang feared could cut her season — if not her career— short. “Throughout my career I went through so many ups and downs, and especially recent injury,” she said, adding that she was also pleased to hang on for the win after coming up short while in contention. “I had some finishes close to winning and (ended) up finishing top five, top 10, and I really didn’t want that to happen today,” she said. “Beginning of the round I felt pretty nervous and I doubt myself ... but I stayed strong throughout the round really well. This is very meaningful.” Lilia Vu finished a distant fourth at 21 under, but her final-round 65 was enough for her to secure the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Vu, who also owns the No. 1 world ranking, won four tournaments this year, including two major championships. Vu, who is notoriously hard on herself, said she still was self-critical this season, “but much nicer.” “Just kept my goals really small, and I think that really helped me achieve Player of the Year,” the 26-year-old from California said. “Honestly, I don’t think I thought much about it today. I just was trying to play my best out there. Probably have more time to reflect tonight and figure out what it means to me. “I mean, I went to the Rolex dinner on Thursday and Annika (Sorenstam) is an eight-time Player of the Year and I thought it was just amazing to be up there with her.”