Hataoka holds early lead in first round of LPGA Founders Cup

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CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — Nasa Hataoka shot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 in perfect playing conditions and grabbed an early one-stroke lead in the $3 million Cognizant Founders Cup on Thursday.

Hataoka ignited her round with a 10-foot eagle putt on No. 2 at Upper Montclair Country Club and added five birdies the rest of the way in posting her fifth straight round in the 60s. The 23-year-old is seeking her second straight tour win after winning in Los Angeles last month, then returning to Japan for a rest.

The time off didn’t hurt her game in the event that honors the 13 founding members of the LPGA Tour.

“I was originally planning to play in Palos Verdes last week, but I decided take the two weeks off and gear up for this tournament,” Hataoka said, adding she rested for three days, met with her trainer, did strength training and got in a little practice.

Amy Yang of South Korea and Giulia Molinaro of Italy were tied for second and a shot ahead of Americans Ally Ewing and Ryann O’Toole. Ewing had a wild round that included an eagle on a 63-foot putt on No. 2, six birdies and three bogeys.

The combination of cloudy weather, recent rain and little wind made the greens very receptive and slower than normal. It led to birdies.

“I really enjoyed the golf course out there today, and I was hitting balls really solid and gave myself many good chances,” said Yang, who has had three Top 10 finishes this year. “My putting was also rolling really nice, and the greens were rolling really nice out there.”

Sophia Popov, the 29-year-old German whose only win on tour was in a major (the 2020 AIG Championship), was in a group at 68.

Two-time defending champion Jin Young Ko of South Korea was in a big group at 69. She paid for missing a few fairways on the 6,536-yard tree-lined course. She had six birdies and three bogeys.

“I don’t want to bogey tomorrow,” said Ko, who won this event in Arizona in 2019 and on another New Jersey course last year. The 2020 event was canceled by the pandemic.

“I want to play a bogey-free round next three days,” she added. “This course is really tough, so hit the fairway and hit the greens, make a par. Birdie or par.”

Anna Davis, the 16-year-old who won the recent Augusta National Women’s Amateur championships, shot a 70 playing on a sponsor’s exemption. She made the cut in the Palos Verdes Championship in California, which was won by Marina Alex.

Alex of nearby Wayne, New Jersey, will have to rally to make the cut in the field of 144 players after shooting a 74.

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