But, as is usually the case in golf, the CME Group Tour Championship was decided on the final day ― this time, over the final three holes.
South Korea's Amy Yang had a better performance than Hataoka in the tourney's final round, shooting a 6-under 66 and earning the top prize of $2 million USD (¥296.5 million JPY). And that was the deciding factor on Sunday, November 19 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. Yang finished the weekend at 27-under 261.
Hataoka, who has won six LPGA Tour titles in her career, carded a 3-under 69 in the last round.
The 24-year-old Hataoka shared the runner-up spot with American Alison Lee, who had a final-round 66, at 24-under 264. They both pocketed $445,000 USD (about ¥66 million JPY).
Yang Outplays Hataoka to Close Out the Final Round
On Sunday, Yang and Hataoka were tied for the lead with three holes remaining.
With a bogey on the par-3 16th hole (her first bogey in 35 holes), Hataoka fell a stroke off Yang's pace.
On the 17th hole, Yang made a 3-foot birdie. Hataoka had to settle for par. That extended Yang's lead to two strokes.
Hataoka made two birdies on the back nine, shooting a 1-under 35 in that span. She also made par on the final hole.
Yang had three birdies and an eagle on the par-4 13th hole for a 31 on the back nine. She completed the round with another birdie.
"I was so nervous down the stretch," Yang, 34, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "But I tried to tell myself: 'I can do this. I can do this.' I'm so happy I made it."
For Yang, the season-ending triumph marked her first title since February 2019 at the Honda LPGA Thailand event.
Hataoka Posed a Formidable Challenge
Yang acknowledged that Hataoka, who carded a 63 in the first round, a 67 in the second round, and a 65 in the third, posed a stiff challenge for her on Sunday.
Asked when she felt she had sealed the win, Yang explained it this way during a news conference: "You know, not until I made the birdie putt on the 17th."
Yang then said, "You know, she is such a great player and showed a lot of, like, good performance out there and I was feeling really nervous. … I had no idea where this was going. All I could do was just stick to my game and trust it."
Hataoka admitted she wasn't pleased with the outcome of the final round.
"It's disappointing I couldn't improve my score," Hataoka said, according to Kyodo News. "I wavered on the back nine. It's frustrating I couldn't provide myself with chances."
A Solid 2023 for Hataoka
In 2023, Hataoka had seven top-10 tournament finishes on the LPGA Tour. Her second-best result was at the Evian Championship in France, where she tied for third in early July.
"I think being in the top 10 seven times is really good," Hataoka said on Sunday.
She added, "I think winning is something more important for me, so I'm just going to keep trying for it."
The LPGA Tour begins its 2024 season with the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, January 18-21, in Orlando, Florida.
Author: Ed Odeven