• AFP-JIJI

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Nasa Hataoka shot the lowest opening round score in an LPGA Tour event in almost seven years on Thursday with a sizzling 10-under 61 in the first round of the Marathon Classic.

The Japanese star posted six consecutive birdies in the middle of her round then drained her 10th and final birdie of the day on the par-five seventh at the Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.

The 22-year old has a commanding four-stroke lead over American Lauren Stephenson, who was alone in second at six-under 65.

“Everything was just right at the center, so I guess I would say it was the zone. I was able to control everything,” Hataoka said of her bogey-free round.

Kim Hyo-joo is the last player to begin an LPGA tournament with a 61 or better, having done so at the 2014 Evian Masters.

Five players are tied for third at 66, including last week’s runner-up Matilda Castren and two-time major winner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand.

South Korea’s Lee Mi-rim and American Jennifer Song are part of a six player group who shot 67.

Hataoka finished just one stroke shy of the tournament record of 60 and her four-stroke cushion is the largest first-round lead since Tiffany Joh at the Women’s Scottish Open in 2018.

Hataoka, who began her round on No. 10, rolled in her first birdie of the day on the 13th hole. She birdied the 15th for the first of six in a row. She added three more birdies at Nos. five, six and seven on her back nine.

“I think what was really working is I was able to control my iron shots to make sure I could get close to the pin to get the birdies,” Hataoka said.

Her previous personal best score was a 63 in the third round of the 2018 NW Arkansas Championship, which she went on to win.

Defending champion Danielle Kang opened with a one-under 70 and is tied for 44th.

The 144-player field will be cut to the top 70 and ties after 36 holes with the eventual winner earning $300,000.

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