NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Nasa Hataoka had a strong start and Amy Yang had a hot finish, finishing with a share of the lead in the CME Group Tour Championship with 18 holes left and $2 million on the line.
Yang had four birdies on her final six holes at Tiburon for an 8-under 64. Hataoka set the pace early with five birdies in her first 11 holes and finished with a 65.
They were at 21-under 195, scoring so low that they already are within two shots of the tournament record with one round to go.
“It does feel quite nervous being in contention, but I never thought like I have to follow the 9-under par yesterday, because golf you never know,” said Yang, who shot 63 on Friday. “But I did try my best just to stay like present, and when I decide to hit one shot and just commit to it and go for it.”
Hataoka was asked what it would take to win, knowing $2 million goes to the winner.
“Not to change anything,” she said. “My swing feels really comfortable. … I think the best is to just concentrate on my round and just keep that out of my mind and just do my golf.”
Alison Lee, who came into the LPGA finale with a Ladies European Tour win and two runner-up finishes on the LPGA Tour, tried to keep pace. She managed only four birdies, three of them on the par 5s, and had to settle for a 68.
That still left her only three shots behind with so much riding on Sunday.
The 60 players who qualified for the final event of the LPGA Tour only have to win at Tiburon Golf Club to claim the $2 million prize, matching the richest in women’s golf equal to the U.S. Women’s Open. Only six women have earned $2 million or more all season.
Yang will be trying to win in America for the first time. Her four LPGA victories have come in South Korea once and Thailand three times.
Hataoka has six LPGA titles, all within the last five years, and the 24-year-old from Japan rode a hot putter to give herself a chance.
“She played amazing, made a lot of really good putts,” said Lee, who played with Hataoka. “So watching that, I saw her make some and it’s like, ‘God, I want to make some, too.’ But we still got one more day left. Still a lot of work to do on Sunday.”
Xiyu Lin had a 66 and was four shots behind, still very much in the hunt. Another shot back were Women’s PGA champion Ruoning Yin and two-time major champion Minjee Lee, both with a 69 on a day when much more was required to keep pace.
“You can’t really complain with the bogey-free round,” Yin said. “Today I just make less birdies than two days ago, but everything I feel like just a little bit off.”
Tiburon got 4 inches of rain on the eve of the tournament and the course has yet to dry out and provide much of a test. The fairways are generous, the greens soft and smooth, and the scoring has been low.
Jin Young Ko set the tournament record at 23-under par two years ago.
Nelly Korda tried to stay close, making her first hole-in-one on the LPGA Tour at the par-3 eighth. But she had consecutive bogeys late on the back nine and had to settle for a 66. That left her seven shots behind, tied with world No. 1 Lilia Vu (66), Brooke Henderson of Canada (66) and Atthaya Thitikul (69).
“Definitely nothing-to-lose mentality,” Korda said. “It’s going to take a really low one to catch the leaders. I would say anything is possible. I’m going to go out trying to play my game and take it one shot at a time and see where that takes me.”
Vu all but clinched the points-based award for LPGA player of the year. She needed to finish eighth to assure herself the title, but that was only if Celine Boutier were to win. Boutier had another 70 and was 14 shots behind in a tie for 35th.
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