Pair of aces in Arkansas lifts Nasa Hataoka to fifth career LPGA title

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After a pair of aces in two days, Nasa Hataoka couldn’t have made it look easier to start the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

It didn’t end that way though, as a shaky three-putt par on the last gave Hataoka the one-stroke cushion needed to collect her fifth career title. The powerfully petite Japanese player finished at 16-under 197 for the week at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas.

“It was really, really stressful, especially after the bogey,” said Hataoka of the dropped shot on the 13th that could’ve been much worse had her racing putt not hit the hole and popped up.

Minjee Lee put a solid stroke on a final birdie attempt that slid by the hole to finish tied with Eun-Hee Ji at 15 under. Ji got up and down from a greenside bunker behind the green using only her putter.

Danielle Kang and Yuka Saso both shot 65 to finish in a share of fourth. Saso carded two eagles on Sunday including a sensational approach shot into the 18th with a 5-wood that stopped 4 feet from the hole. After a month off from the tour, she was pleased with the week.

Kang, who debuted as a pro at Pinnacle, said she’s focused on finishing the season strong.

“I’m actually very proud of the work that I’ve done this week,” she said. “I left a lot out there, but I was mentally in a really great place.”

Arkansas stars Stacy Lewis and Maria Fassi played together on Sunday. Lewis’s 66 moved her into a share of sixth at 12 under. Fassi, who launched her foundation this week, struggled to a 73 in the final round and dropped to T-51.

“I played really solid,” said Lewis. “Just never really got the putter going any day. I mean, today I made five birdies and three of them were within about a foot and a half and one was a chip-in.”

India’s Aditi Ashok, who came within one shot of a medal at the Olympics, took a share of eighth.

“I feel like I did good,” Ashok said of the boost she received from Tokyo, “and that was a huge takeaway. I feel like I can actually play well out here, and not just struggle to make putts. I can finish well, like I did in my rookie year. I had a top 10; the second year I had a couple top 10s. After that it’s been a bit of a dry spell.”

Hataoka has now passed Hiromi Kobayashi for third-most victories by a Japanese player, trailing Ayako Okamoto (17) and Ai Miyazato (9).

LPGA Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
LPGA Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Nasa Hataoka poses after making a hole-in-one on the 11th hole during the first round of the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. Photo by Kyodo via AP Images

Hataoka’s ace on Friday came on No. 11 when she struck a 9-iron from 135 yards. Saturday’s hole-in-one came on the sixth hole from 175 yards with a 5-iron.

She became just the fifth player in LPGA Tour history to make two aces in one tournament – the first since Ayako Uehara at the 2016 CP Women’s Open – and is the fourth to do it in back-to-back rounds. Hataoka is also the fourth player to have at least two aces in two different seasons, joining Betsy King (2, 1979 and 2, 1990), Meg Mallon (2, 1999 and 2, 2001) and Charlotta Sorenstam (2, 2001 and 3, 2002).

For the aces, CME Group will donate $20,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I’m also happy that I got the hole-in-ones,” said Hataoka, “but on the other hand, I’m really, really happy to be able to help the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. That’s what makes my really happy.”

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