Golf: Japan's Nasa Hataoka nabs third LPGA title at Kia Classic as overnight leader Park In-bee falters

Japan's Nasa Hataoka holds the trophy after winning the Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 31, 2019.
Japan's Nasa Hataoka holds the trophy after winning the Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 31, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Japan's Nasa Hataoka had six birdies in a five-under 67 on Sunday (March 31) to roll to a three-stroke victory in the LPGA Kia Classic in Carlsbad, California.

Hataoka, 20, notched her third LPGA title with an 18-under total of 270.

She was three shots clear of former world No. 1 Park In-bee, current No. 1 Park Sung-hyun, Ko Jin-young, Danielle Kang and Azahara Munoz.

Hataoka had posted a third-round 64 to enter Sunday trailing Park In-bee by a stroke in the final tune-up for the year's first major, the ANA Inspiration, next week.

"Big tournament coming up next week, so I'll celebrate a little bit but get my mind refreshed and start again next week," Hataoka said.

Park In-bee, chasing a 20th LPGA tour title but her first in a year, carded a one-under 71.

Park Sung-hyun, who had a share of the second-round lead on Friday, signed for a 68. Spain's Munoz also had a 68 while America's Kang and South Korean Ko - winner of the Founders Cup in Phoenix last week - both shot 65.

South Korean Kim Hyo-joo equalled the tournament record with a 62 to join the group sharing seventh on 274.

Hataoka was five under for the day when she found the water on the way to a bogey at the par-four 16th that cut her lead to two strokes.

She shook off the miscue with a tap-in birdie at No. 17 and capped her round with a par.

"I forgot about the bogey very quickly," she said. "I knew that 17 was a chance I could make a birdie, and just very relieved and felt great that I was able to actually get a birdie."

Hataoka is the sixth different winner on the LPGA tour this season - the third straight year that the first six tournaments have had six different winners.

Park In-bee, who played alongside her in the final pairing, said she showed no sign of nerves.

"Didn't really look like she was feeling the pressure, especially in the way she played the last hole," the seven-time Major champion said.