Hataoka, Yang share 54-hole lead in LPGA Tour Championship

Japan’s Nasa Hataoka grabbed seven birdies in a seven-under par 65 to maintain a share of the LPGA Tour Championship lead on Saturday alongside South Korean Amy Yang.

Yang had eight birdies in her eight-under par 64 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, joining Hataoka on 21-under 195 — three shots clear of overnight co-leader Alison Lee of the United States.

Hataoka has held a share of the lead after every round in the elite season-ending event that opened with 60 golfers chasing a $2 million winner’s prize.

“I think the best is to just concentrate on my round and just keep that out of my mind and just do my golf,” said Hataoka, the world number 18 who is chasing a seventh LPGA title but her first since 2022.

Hataoka said her ball-striking and putting were again spot-on, making for another good day despite a tricky change in wind direction and slightly faster greens.

She said she’d have to aggressive on Sunday, when her biggest challenge will be not to change the things that have kept her atop the leaderboard all week.

“My swing feels really comfortable,” Hataoka said. “Tomorrow I have a couple of keys, so I will focus on my keys, good rhythm and good targets.”

Yang, who powered into contention with a bogey-free 63 on Friday, hasn’t made a bogey since her opening hole on Thursday.

“I’ve been hitting the ball really solid and that really gave me lots of chances out there,” said the veteran who has won all four of her LPGA titles in Asia.

She admitted to feeling “quite nervous” being in contention, but didn’t feel pressure to duplicate or surpass her impressive second round.

“Because in golf you never know,” she said. “I did try my best just to stay present and when I decide to hit one shot just commit to it and go for it.”

Yang, who said painful tennis elbow in recent years, brought on by too much indoor rock climbing, had her wondering if her career might be cut short.

Now, however, she’s “100% fully back” and has a simple mindset as she chases her first title since Thailand in 2019.

“I don’t need to think about a lot of technical stuff or see where I am on the leaderboard or anything,” she said. “(I) just focus on what I have on each shot.”

Lee said she hit the ball well again, but “just couldn’t make the putts that I wanted to make.”

“I played with Nasa today. She played amazing,” Lee said. “Made a lot of really good putts. I saw her make some and it’s like, God, I want to make some, too.”

The American was just one stroke in front of China’s Lin Xiyu, who carded a second straight 66. Australia’s Minjee Lee and China’s Yin Ruoning both carded 69s and were level on 200.

A further two strokes back was a group on 202 headed by world number one Lilia Vu, whose four LPGA titles in 2023 — two of them majors — have her closing in on Player of the Year honors. (AFP)