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Nasa Hataoka turns in a prime-time performance to lead US Women’s Open at Pebble

PEBBLE BEACH, California (AP) – Neither the wind at Pebble Beach nor the stage of a US Women’s Open could stop Nasa Hataoka, who delivered the best round in the toughest conditions Saturday for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead.

Hataoka not only posted the low score of the championship, she played bogey-free on a day Pebble Beach dished out big numbers without much warning. Her 66 was nearly nine shots better than the field average.

More important, it left the 24-year-old from Japan one round away from her first major. Hataoka has lost playoffs at two majors, including two years ago to Yuka Saso at the US Women’s Open up the California coast at Olympic Club.

Allisen Corpuz was right there with her until the end, when the Hawaii native missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th and then caught a plugged lie in the bunker that runs along the ocean wall on the 18th. She had to pitch out to the fairway and missed her 15-foot par putt.

Corpuz had a 71 — one of 10 players who broke par on Saturday — and will be in the final group with Hataoka on Sunday.

The first LPGA major in prime time brought sunny views of the most famous coastline course in America and a mixture of brilliance and blunders in wind that gusted over 20 miles per hour.

Hataoka, six shots behind at the start of the round, began her move with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. Turning back into the homeward holes into the wind, she holed a 15-foot putt for birdie on the 13th and drew her loudest cheer when her 40-foot chip from behind the 16th green broke hard to the right and dropped for birdie.

Her final birdie was a 12-footer on the par-3 17th. Hataoka was at 7-under 209.

Corpuz chipped in for birdie on the par-3 fifth, hit a beauty into the 10th for another birdie and kept in front with a wedge that checked up just short of a back pin on the par-5 14th.

Bailey Tardy, the LPGA Tour rookie who had a two-shot lead at the start of the way, began to fall back as she turned into the wind and then lost her way on the 15th hole when she hit a clunky chip that ran through the green, chipped too strong coming back and made double bogey.

Tardy shot 75 and was three shots behind at 4-under 212, along with Hyo Joo Kim (73). Jiyai Shin (70) and Hae Ran Ryu (73) were five behind. No one else was under par.

So many others did well just to hold their ground, and left themselves far behind.

Rose Zhang, the crowd favorite at Pebble Beach from her sterling amateur career at Stanford and winning her first LPGA event as a pro, had a chance to get to 3 under for the round until missing a 4-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole.

She didn’t make a birdie the rest of the way. She settled for a 72 and was among those eight shots behind.

Leona Maguire, who had a 40 on the scorable front nine on Friday, struggled again with a pair of double bogeys and went out in 39. She left one shot in a bunker on the par-5 sixth, and flew the green and a bunker with a flop shot that went bad on the eighth.

But she was even par the rest of the way for a 75.

Irish amateur Aine Donegan had the toughest time. She was playing her best golf of the week and making an early run with three birdies through seven holes and a perfect drive on the eighth, short of the 60-foot cliff with a harsh left-to-right wind.

And then she sailed a hybrid into the hazard area well right and below the green. She headed back to the drop zone and did it again. It added to a 9, effectively ending her chances.

“Probably one of the worst shots I’ve hit all year,” Donegan said. “And followed it up with the exact same thing.”

Her caddie told her to consider a front nine of seven pars and two bogeys — that was the same score as three birdies and a quintuple bogey — and that helped calm her down.

“I couldn’t keep crying about it,” Donegan said. It was anything but that for an Irish player whose smile and attitude have brightened Pebble Beach as much as the sunshine that finally arrived.

She had a 75, still well-positioned to be low amateur in her first US Women’s Open, but 11 shots behind Hataoka.

Of the six players still under par, only Kim and Shin have won majors. Shin is a two-time Women’s British Open champion and former world No 1 who has left the LPGA Tour and primarily plays the Japan LPGA.

Hataoka hopes she can learn from her experiences in playoff losses at majors, particularly the one at Olympic.

“I still have this very last day to look forward to, and although circumstances may be different, I think some of the elements are still the same as they were versus two years ago,” Hataoka said. “In other words, I have to go on all of those 18 holes, discuss with my caddie and work out what’s the best for me, and enjoy my day tomorrow.”

Nasa Hataoka, of Japan, hits from the 18th fairway during the third round of the US Women’s Open golf tournament at the Pebble Beach Golf Links on Saturday. PHOTO: AP
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