HATAOKA BRINGS THE HEAT DURING WINDY FIRST ROUND
Nasa Hataoka carded eight birdies in Thursday’s first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship and finished with a two-stroke lead. Sharing second place at 5-under par are Danielle Kang and Charlie Hull, both previous winners on the LPGA Tour. Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sung Hyun Park and four-time LPGA Tour champion Minjee Lee trail by three strokes at 4-under.
HATAOKA DEFIES TOUGH CONDITIONS TO SET PACE WITH AN OPENING 7-UNDER 65
Cold and windy weather made SKY72 Golf & Resort’s Ocean Course an even tougher test for the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship but Rolex First-Time winner Nasa Hataoka was barely fazed by that as she stormed into a two-shot lead with a brilliant opening 7-under 65.
The 19-year-old from Ibaraki produced stellar form from tee to green - and backed that up with red-hot putting - to card eight birdies in her first 16 holes, dropping her only shot of the day at the par-three 17th before parring the last to set the tournament pace.
"I was hitting very solid, so I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities ... and that really helped my game today," Hataoka said, speaking through an interpreter. "As a professional golfer, I believe that we need to be able to play solid under any conditions, including very strong winds. Until the 17th hole, I managed the wind very well, but at the 17th I kind of slipped in managing the wind."
In just her second full season on the LPGA Tour, Hataoka has been remarkably consistent. She has recorded eight top-10s in 20 starts, including a breakthrough victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and a playoff loss at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. "A lot of different elements are coming together for me so that I can play a stronger game,” she said. “For instance, I think my shots are more solid and my putting has improved greatly, so this is all working toward my favor."
KANG’S STRESS GONE WITH THE WIND
Danielle Kang couldn’t have been happier after finishing round one at SKY72’s Ocean Course, her first round of official play since missing the cut at the Evian Championship. Kang carded six birdies, along with a lone bogey at the par-4 second, but took advantage of the windy conditions and her excitement of playing in Korea to shoot a 5-under 67.
“Someone asked me this morning, ‘how are you feeling; are you ready to play today?’ Honestly, I'm really happy. I'm not really worried about golf. I think that's one of the main things I've been stressing about,” said Kang, who shares second place with Charley Hull. “I absolutely love playing in Korea. I love it out here. I was asking my physio yesterday if I've gotten fatter because I can't stop eating.”
Kang, who spent some time with friends and family in the local area, fed upon their support to keep up her momentum during Thursday’s round.
“The fact that my friends’ parents came out and I'm playing good, which makes it more exciting -- because Korea, they love when you play well. They cheer you on and I like that. I mean, everyone knows me. I like it when it gets loud.”
LUCKY BOUNCE ON 18 HELPS SUNG HYUN CLOSE WITH A BIRDIE
An unlikely favorable bounce at the par-five 18th helped Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sung Hyun Park sign off with a birdie to end the opening round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship just three strokes off the lead.
Park pulled her tee shot way left on the final hole, then watched as her ball ricocheted off an adjacent cart path before bouncing well down the fairway 354 yards away, giving her an advantage of at least 80 yards off the tee over her two long-hitting playing partners, Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson.
"My tee shot, I played it kind of forward but I didn't see it hit the road," Park said after firing a 4-under 68 to trail the pacesetting Nasa Hataoka by three shots. "But when my ball went flying and it landed, I heard the gallery cheer and I didn't know where it landed up until then. Then I was walking along the fairway and I saw it and my caddie and I were really relieved to see it, where it was. So of course I felt really good about that shot."
Park, a runner-up at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in 2015 and again last year, was pleased to pocket seven birdies on a cold and windy day at SKY72 Golf & Resort, her only mistakes coming with a bogey at the second and a double-bogey at the par-three 17th.