Golf: Japan's Hataoka out to defend crown at LPGA Dana Open

Nasa Hataoka hits her tee shot on the 2nd hole during the final round of the CP Women's Open, on Aug 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Defending champion Nasa Hataoka of Japan leads a field of returning mums, Major winners and a teen prodigy when the LPGA Dana Open tees off on Thursday.

Hataoka fired a career-low 61 in the opening round last year at Highland Meadows in Sylvania, Ohio, and won an event trimmed to 54 holes by bad weather.

"This course is very challenging," Hataoka said.

"Fairways are narrow, greens are pretty small, so it's really important to hit a good tee shot. I was able to do that last year. I think that's the key."

Hataoka won her sixth career LPGA title in April at the Los Angeles Open and hopes the event's move from the heat of July to the relative September cool will help her repeat bid.

"The win in LA definitely gave me a boost of confidence, especially on a very difficult golf course," Hataoka said.

"Recently I haven't been in contention, but I feel like fall is my season. So I will try my best, and maybe two wins is a good number."

Spain's Azahara Munoz and American Paula Creamer will make their returns to LPGA play after maternity breaks.

Creamer gave birth to Hilton eight months ago while baby Lucas arrived to Munoz in February.

"It has been amazing to be back," Munoz said. "I was a bit nervous coming to the course on Monday actually. Feels like it has been forever. I've enjoyed being home so much."

Lucas has been a helpful new member of the team so far.

"He's incredible. He's such a good little boy," Munoz said. "He has the best temperament, so he literally never cries. He's so easygoing. So it's been super enjoyable."

A local teen hero in the field is 14-year-old Gianna Clemente, who played in last week's LPGA Canadian Open and won the Monday qualifying event to play this week near her hometown of Warren, Ohio.

"Super lucky for this opportunity," Clemente said. "I probably should be going up to people, but I'm a little too nervous to do that.

"I'm not as stressed out as I was before. I'm just going to go out there and have fun with dad on the bag again."

It wasn't so many years ago that she was watching her rivals at this event while a fan walking with her dad outside the ropes.

"It's kind of crazy to me," she said. "This is definitely a special one to play in so I'm really excited."

The field features this year's five women's golf Major winners in Australia's Minjee Lee, who withdrew due to illness last week; South Korean Chun In-gee, American Jennifer Kupcho, Canada's Brooke Henderson and South African Ashleigh Buhai.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.