PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The U.S. Women’s Open went prime-time from Pebble Beach.
So did Nasa Hataoka.
In gusts that topped 20 mph, Hataoka managed to play bogey-free Saturday with a 6-under 66 for the lowest score all week at Pebble Beach, giving her a one-shot lead over Allisen Corpuz going into the final round of the biggest event in women’s golf.
At stake for Hataoka is a chance to wipe away two playoff losses in the majors, most recently two years ago in the U.S. Women’s Open up the California coast at Olympic Club.
“It could be just happenstance, perhaps good luck,” Hataoka said about another shot at a Women’s Open in California.
There wasn’t much luck involved on a day so tough at Pebble Beach that only 10 players broke par and the 24-year-old Hataoka was the only one to break 70. Her score was nearly nine shots better than the field average.
She will play in the final group with Corpuz, the Hawaii native who stayed at USC an extra year to get her MBA during the COVID-19 pandemic. Corpuz stayed atop the leaderboard for most of the day until her second shot on the par-5 18th into the wind caught a plugged lie in the bunker, forcing her to chop out to the fairway. Her bogey gave her a 71.
Corpuz has never won on the LPGA Tour, and now she’s in the final group of the Women’s Open with $2 million going to the winner. This isn’t exactly what she imagined as a kid.
“I had putts to win the U.S. Open, like little tap-ins, but I don’t think I ever really thought I’d be in this position,” Corpuz said. “Just really, really grateful to be here, and yeah, hope that tomorrow goes well.”
Hataoka was at 7-under 209. She won a major on the Japan LPGA as a 17-year-old amateur, and now tries to become the third player to win an LPGA major.
Bailey Tardy, the LPGA rookie who had a two-shot lead at the start of the way, began to fall back as she turned into the wind and then lost her way on the 15th hole when she hit a clunky chip that ran through the green, chipped too strong coming back and made double bogey.
Tardy shot 75 and was three shots behind at 4-under 212, along with Hyo Joo Kim (73). Jiyai Shin (70) and Hae Ran Ryu (73) were five behind. No one else was under par.
“Disappointed in some of my shots today, but overall, I’m still in contention,” Tardy said. “I was leading the U.S. Open after two days. I think there was a little bit of nerves involved today.”
Hataoka, six shots behind at the start of the round, began her move with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. Turning back into the homeward holes into the wind, she holed a 15-foot putt for birdie on the 13th and drew her loudest cheer when her 40-foot chip from behind the 16th green broke hard to the right and dropped for birdie.
Corpuz chipped in for birdie on the par-3 fifth, hit a beauty into the 10th for another birdie and kept in front with a wedge that checked up just short of a back pin on the par-5 14th.
So many others did well just to hold their ground, and left themselves far behind.
Rose Zhang, the crowd favorite at Pebble Beach from her sterling amateur career at Stanford and winning her first LPGA event as a pro, had a chance to get to 3 under for the round until missing a 4-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole.
She didn’t make a birdie the rest of the way. She settled for a 72 and was among those eight shots behind.
Leona Maguire, who had a 40 on the scorable front nine on Friday, struggled again with a pair of double bogeys and went out in 39. She left one shot in a bunker on the par-5 sixth, and flew the green and a bunker with a flop shot that went bad on the eighth.
But she was even par the rest of the way for a 75.
Irish amateur Aine Donegan had the toughest time. She was playing her best golf of the week and making an early run with three birdies through seven holes and a perfect drive on the eighth, short of the 60-foot cliff with a harsh left-to-right wind.
And then she sailed a hybrid into the hazard area well right and below the green. She headed back to the drop zone and did it again. It added to a 9, effectively ending her chances.
“Probably one of the worst shots I’ve hit all year,” Donegan said. “And followed it up with the exact same thing.”
Her caddie told her to consider a front nine of seven pars and two bogeys — that was the same score as three birdies and a quintuple bogey — and that helped calm her down.
“I couldn’t keep crying about it,” Donegan said. It was anything but that for an Irish player whose smile and attitude have brightened Pebble Beach as much as the sunshine that finally arrived.
Hataoka hopes she can learn from her experiences in playoff losses at majors, particularly the one at Olympic.
“I still have this very last day to look forward to, and although circumstances may be different, I think some of the elements are still the same as they were versus two years ago,” Hataoka said. “In other words, I have to go on all of those 18 holes, discuss with my caddie and work out what’s the best for me, and enjoy my day tomorrow.”