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Nasa Hataoka stays ahead of the Marathon LPGA Classic with late bird burst

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Nasa Hataoka needed another birdie to hang on to the lead in the Marathon LPGA Classic on Friday.

A day after making six straight birdies in a first ten-under-61 age, the 22-year-old Japanese player had four in a row at number 14 to 17 to save a 69.

“My shots were not as good as yesterday,” Hataoka said. “Didn’t have that many chances. I had a lot of problems, but I was able to fix it for the last part and get it going again.”

Her lead was cut from four to two strokes, with American Mina Harigae second after her second disc-free 66.

Hataoka had a total of 12 under 130 at Highland Meadows. She played the first nine in 1 over with two birdies and three bogeys and at 13 struck a shot again before bursting with the late birdie.

“I was a little stiff with the impact and could realize it and adjusted myself to relax and that brought those birds,” Hataoka said.

The three-time winner of the LPGA Tour loses a play-off match against Yuka Saso a month ago at the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. She retired last week after finishing 29th in Michigan and missing out on the KMPG Women’s PGA Tour.

The 31-year-old Harigae is unbeaten on the LPGA Tour.

“I feel really confident, comfortable with all aspects of my game,” Harigae said. “Everything just feels solid and everything flows together, so it feels really good.”

American teammates Alison Lee and Elizabeth Szokol each shot 66 to get to 9 under.

The emerging Lee lined up the last three holes on the layout that ended with consecutive par 5s.

“It’s been a long time since I saw my name on the leaderboard,” Lee said. “When I doubt myself for the weekend, it really feels really good. It almost makes it seem like two years have not happened, which is great to feel.”

Szokol also made a big move on Highland Meadows’ nine backs, battling the last three and five of the last six in the round that started at No. 10.

“I’m just really looking forward to it – another 36 holes,” Szokol said. “I like this golf course a lot, so just look at what the weekend brings. I’m excited to have fans back.”

Another three Americans – Jennifer Kupcho (65), Gerina Piller (65) and Lauren Stephenson (69) – were 8 down with Esther Henseleit (64) from Germany and Chella Choi (66) from South Korea.

Kupcho, Piller, Henseleit and Choi also led numbers 17 and 18.

“I like to return to this place,” Kupcho said. “This is where I came from and played as an amateur first LPGA event, so it’s always special. I like to play here.”

Defending Champion Danielle Kang was 7 down to a 65.

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