Nasa Hataoka shot a six-under 66 on Saturday, tying Brooke Henderson for the lowest round so far at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. At 11-under par, Hataoka has rocketed into a tie for second on the leaderboard, sitting just three shots behind Henderson heading into the final day of competition.
But it took Hataoka a while to find her rhythm and start chasing Henderson in earnest. A bogey on No. 3 slowed her down early and it wasn’t until her birdie on nine that the 24-year-old began to climb up the leaderboard.
“Thursday, Friday I had a birdie first, so I had a good tempo through the days, but today a bogey came first,” Hataoka said coming off the 18th green. “On the front nine, I wasn’t striking the ball how I wanted to. I was kind of struggling with my game a little bit. But No. 9’s birdie putt – it was a challenging line – making that kind of putt, it gives me a boost, so I was really happy to make that one.
“The birdie on 9 was something that kind of changed my game today, so happy that I was able to change that.”
After she made the turn, Hataoka showed out, putting on a clinic. She buried six birdies, four of which came consecutively on Nos. 13-16. Her putt on 9 seemed to give her a huge boost on the greens, as the six-time LPGA Tour winner only needed 25 putts to get through Lake Nona.
“They were all similar lines,” Hataoka said of her birdie fest on the back nine. “It was a left to right line. I feel like I’ve been hitting those type of lines really good, so I think that really helped me on those birdie streaks.”
But Hataoka also credits her ball striking for her success today. The Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 10 hit 13 greens in regulation, nine of 14 fairways and averaged 246.5 yards off the tee.
“Whenever I’m playing like that, my ball-striking is always the key, and I was able to do that today,” Hataoka said. “I’m really happy with it.”
Though the birdie on nine changed the course of her day, Hataoka said the most memorable birdie was on 18 with the music in the background.
“Obviously the music gave me some vibe too, but I was really focused on that line, so I was able to putt really well,” Hataoka said with a smile.
If her putter stays hot and the DJ can break it down tomorrow, Hataoka will keep up the chase and Henderson won’t be able to run away with a win on Sunday.