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Nasa Hataoka wins 2018 TOTO Japan Classic

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With a birdie on the final hole raising cries from the throngs of adoring fans ringing the green, riding Japanese star Nasa Hataoka won the 2018 TOTO Japan Classic for her second career LPGA win. Hataoka earned a two-stroke win over Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and Hataoka’s countrywomen Momoko Ueda and Saki Nagamine.

“I'm so proud. I'm so happy to win this event,” said Hataoka, who becomes the season’s second multiple winner. “Actually, I wanted to win this tournament before it began. I am really happy to accomplish it.”

 

Hataoka started the day four strokes behind second-round leader Minjee Lee. Lee quickly faded, playing the opening nine at 7-over 43 and opening the door for Hataoka, who played the same stretch at 4-under 36. Hataoka did hiccup on her second nine, carding consecutive bogeys at holes 11 and 12 and allowing Ciganda to briefly pull into a tie for the lead. But Hataoka’s clutch par save at No. 13 regained her confidence, and her birdie at No. 14 reclaimed a tenuous lead.

“I realize something has to come to me and I had to get through it, and I knew it was at the 13th hole,” said Hataoka of the putt that saved her round. “I was not totally comfortable with the shot, but I was calm enough to play well on that hole.”

Playing one group ahead, Ciganda had a prime chance to tie Hataoka at No. 18 but left her birdie putt from above the hole just a few rolls too short. From nearly the same position, Hataoka’s birdie putt fell, clinching a hard-fought home win for the 19-year-old from Ibaraki, Japan.

Carlota Ciganda surely did her best to put pressure on Nasa Hataoka throughout Sunday’s final round. The Spaniard returned a bogey-free 68, never seeming to falter during her trip round Seta Golf Club. When Hataoka stumbled on the back nine, the steady Ciganda saw her name join Hataoka’s at the top of the leaderboard, but the Japanese teen was able to drop in two birdies over the closing holes to claim the victory.

“It’s golf and she played great,” said Ciganda. “Very happy for her to win in her country and many congratulations.”

The runner-up finish wraps up a successful Asian Swing for Ciganda, who is not in the field for next week’s Blue Bay LPGA. She did not finish worse than 11th over the last four weeks, with her finish in Japan highlighting the schedule.

“I like playing in Asia and I think I’ve been very consistent every week,” said Ciganda, whose first of two LPGA victories came in the Republic of Korea in 2016. “I’ve been close many times. I just think I have to keep doing the same.”

It certainly was not a round to remember for second-round leader Minjee Lee. The Australian started the day with a three-stroke lead over her nearest competitor. She quickly derailed, carding back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4. She tacked on double bogeys at holes 7 and 8, and closed out the front nine with another bogey at No. 9.

“I don't know, maybe a lot of brain farts in a row,” said Lee, who added a birdie on the back nine but ultimately fell into a tie for 15th at -7. “I didn't hit the shots that I wanted very solid, so obviously it didn't go the way I wanted.”