Japanese teen Nasa Hataoka wins NW Arkansas Championship

Japanese teen Nasa Hataoka wins NW Arkansas Championship
The Associated Press

ROGERS, Ark. (AP) — Japanese teenager Nasa Hataoka ran away with the NW Arkansas Championship on Sunday for her first PGA Tour title

The 19-year-old Hataoka won by six strokes, closing with an 8-under 63 at Pinnacle Country Club for a tournament-record 21-under 192 total. She broke the mark of 18 under set last year by So Yeon Ryu.

Hataoka won twice late last year on the Japan LPGA and has finished in the top 10 in five of her last six LPGA Tour stars, including a playoff loss last month in the Kingsmill Championship.

Hataoka began the round tied with Minjee Lee for the lead.

Austin Ernst shot a 65 to finish second.

Lee and third-ranked Lexi Thompson topped the group at 13 under.

Hataoka entered the week 30th in the world ranking, a far change from a disappointing rookie season a year ago in which she made only eight of 19 cuts on the LPGA Tour — including a missed cut in Arkansas.

Much of her success has come in the last three months after she won the tour’s qualifying tournament in December to earn her full tour card. Hataoka missed the cut in two of her first three tournaments, but she’s now earned prize money in 10 straight events — including $300,000 on Sunday.

The final round was delayed by an hour and a half because of morning thunderstorms. When Hataoka did finally tee off, she did so in a tie with Lee at 13 under.

That didn’t last long after Hataoka chipped in from just off the green on the par-3 third hole for a birdie to reach 14 under. Lee, meanwhile, left her chip shot well short on the rain-soaked green and two-putted for a bogey that dropped her two shots off the lead.

Hataoka stretched her lead to four shots after reaching the 520-yard par-5 seventh hole in two and two-putting for birdie.

The following hole, she nearly holed out from the fairway for an eagle. Her approach shot hit the edge of the hole, resulting in a short break while a rules official did some minor repairs, and she settled for a two-putt par to remain at 16 under.

It was one of the few moments that didn’t go Hataoka’s way on Sunday, or all week. She followed by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole to reach 17 under, and got to 17 under on No. 12.

A final birdie at the 15th pushed Hataoka into record-setting position at 19 under. She didn’t flinch on the final few holes, birdieing the par-3 17th and par-5 18th to reach 21 under.

Local favorite Stacy Lewis shot a 65 to tie for 22nd at 9 under. The former University of Arkansas star is expecting her first child in early November.