That Nasa Hataoka would walk away the winner of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship didn’t seem the likely outcome when the final round began. Not when you consider the calibre of players the 19-year-old from Japan, who hadn’t yet won on the LPGA Tour, was about to face at Pinnacle Country Club in Arkansas.
Hataoka shared the 36-hole lead with Australia’s Minjee Lee. Two shots behind was American standout Lexi Thompson. Three shots back sat 2018 US Women’s Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn. This trio combined for 22 wins on tour, while Hataoka’s best finish since joining the tour a year ago was a T-2, which she earned by losing a playoff to Jutanugarn at the 2018 Kingsmill Championship.
But Hataoka’s lack of winning experience on tour didn’t seem to register with her at all, as she appeared in total control while shooting a final-round 63 that included eight birdies. Meanwhile, her competition struggled to keep up; Hataoka’s closest finisher turned out to be was Austin Ernst, who was six shots behind.
“I was focusing on my game the entire 18 today,” Hataoka said. “Yeah, I’m so happy to win.”
Over the course of the 54-hole tournament, Hataoka shot rounds of 64-65-63 for a 21-under total, beating the tournament scoring record by three strokes. Hataoka missed just six fairways and six greens for the entire tournament. The $US300,000 winner’s cheque nearly doubles her career earnings.
“She’s just got a great game, no weaknesses, pretty long off the tee and just rolls it amazing on the greens,” Thompson said of the new winner. “So it was great to watch. It was definitely a well-deserved win.”
Thompson finished in a six-way tie for third, posting a final-round 69. While disappointed with the outcome – she’s still looking for her first win in 2018 – the tournament was a move in the right direction as she prepared for this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third Major of the 2018 LPGA season. Thompson’s best finish this year was a T-2 in February at the Honda LPGA Thailand. From February until the US Women’s Open, she didn’t have any top-10 finishes. But Thompson followed up her T-5 finish at Shoal Creek with a T-9 at the Meijer Classic and a T-3 this past week.
“I feel really good just overall how the week went,” Thompson said. “It was probably my best ball-striking week that I’ve had in a little bit. Just didn’t make the putts today, didn’t feel as comfortable on the greens like I did yesterday.”
Lee would shoot a closing 71 to also finish tied for third, while Jutanugarn shot a 73 to fall to T-27.