Nasa Hataoka may be only 21, but she has achieved a lot in her time on the LPGA Tour since earning her membership on the circuit at 17.
Now she has her sights on her fourth career victory after firing a 4-under-par 67 on Friday to take a 1-stroke lead midway through the ShopRite LPGA Classic at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway, N.J.
Coupled with her 64, which tied a season low, on Thursday, Hataoka compiled a 36-hole score of 11-under 131 on Seaview’s Bay Course. Mel Reid, who shot a 64 for the day’s low round, and first-round co-leader Mi Hyang Lee, who fired a 69, were tied at 132.
Celine Boutier carded a 65 and Amy Olson a 66 to tie for fourth place at 133. Christina Kim and Jennifer Kupcho each fired a 65 to join Georgia Hall and Jennifer Song at 134. Hall, who won the Cambia Portland Classic two weeks ago, fired her second straight 67, and Song had a 69.
Hataoka, of Ibaraki, Japan, is the youngest player in this week’s top 10 of the Women’s World Golf Rankings, where she stands No. 8. She is eighth on the tour money list and has won $2.84 million already in her career. She also has the unique distinction of being the youngest player to win an LPGA event in both 2018 (19 years, 5 months, 11 days) and 2019 (20 years, 2 months, 18 days).
Playing in the morning in chilly but less windy conditions than Thursday, Hataoka had a birdie-bogey start before settling in with four birdies and no bogeys the rest of the day. Her last two birdies came on a 4-foot putt at No. 16 and a 3-footer at No. 18 after she almost chipped in for an eagle 3.
“I wasn’t striking the ball as well as [Thursday], but I was able to convert my birdie chances where I wanted to, and that was good,” she said. “Today wasn’t about making long putts. It was more like converting the small chances I had.”
Lee, who fired a season-best 63 on Thursday, was 12-under for the tournament Friday with four holes to play before seeing her streak of 32 holes without a bogey end with back-to-back blemishes at her 15th and 16th holes, Nos. 6 and 7 at Seaview.
“My first bogey, I three-putted,” Lee said. “I made two bogeys but I still [shot] 2-under par, so then really look forward to play this weekend.”
Reid, who has been on a roll with back-to-back top-seven finishes in her last two tournaments, caught fire on her second nine – the front nine at Seaview – with five birdies on her final seven holes, including each of the last three.
Lauren Stephenson, who was tied with Lee for the first-round lead, shot a 75 and was tied for 30th at 138.