Nasa Hataoka fired a 7-under 64 on Saturday to build a six-shot lead after three rounds of the Marathon LPGA Classic at Sylvania, Ohio.
Hataoka carded eight birdies and one bogey during the solid round that gave her a 54-hole course record at 19-under 194 at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
Elizabeth Szokol and Mina Harigae are tied for second. Szokol shot 67 and Harigae posted a 68.
But the pair are well behind the 22-year-old Hataoka, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and required just 29 putts during a round that tied for low of the day with Yuka Saso of the Philippines and Celine Boutier of France.
“Right now I’m not going to think about the winning,” said Hataoka, who is searching for her fourth career LPGA victory. “I’m just going to concentrate on playing the best.”
Hataoka made a birdie on No. 2 before suffering a bogey on the following hole for her lone misstep of the day. She had three more birdies on the front nine.
Hataoka shot par on the first four holes of the back nine before getting hot and finishing the round with four birdies in five holes.
“I think last five holes are usually the place where you really have to concentrate and try for the birdies,” Hataoka said. “I think that kind of clicked and gave me those birdies.”
This marks Hataoka’s second appearance at the event and the first one in 2017 didn’t go well as she missed the cut.
“When I first was here, it was my rookie year and I really played awful, so when I’m playing the way I am right now, it really makes me think how much I grew up, how much better I’ve gotten,” Hataoka said.
Szokol had seven birdies and overcame a shaky start in which she had a double-bogey on the first hole and a bogey on No. 4. Harigae had five birdies and two bogeys, and she started fast with four birdies over the first six holes.
Both players are seeking their first career LPGA victory.
“I’ve seen the scores out here,” Harigae said. “Some girls, you can go really low out here, but you just never know. Golf is a funny game. I think if I just keep my head down and keep going forward, it might pan out.”
Germany’s Esther Henseleit shot 67 and is alone in fourth at 12-under 201. Saso, Austin Ernst (66 on Saturday), Germany’s Caroline Masson (66) and South Korea’s Amy Yang (65) are tied for fifth at 11 under.
Saso defeated Hataoka in a three-hole playoff to win the U.S. Women’s Open last month. It would take a valiant comeback — or a collapse by Hataoka — for the two to have another final-round duel on Sunday.
“I will just do whatever I did last couple days,” Saso said. “Just enjoy it and learn from it. Learn again tomorrow.”
Defending champion Danielle Kang (68) is one of six golfers tied for ninth at 10-under 203.
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