Golf: Nasa Hataoka leads early in the first round of the LPGA Founders Cup

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Nasa Hataoka of Japan reacts after putting on the 14th green during the first round of the LPGA Cognizant Founders Cup golf tournament May 12, 2022 in Clifton, New Jersey (AP Photo/Seth Wenig).

CLIFTON, NJ (AP) — Nasa Hataoka shot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 in perfect playing conditions to secure an early one-shot lead in Thursday’s $3 million Cognizant Founders Cup.

Hataoka ignited her round with a 10-foot eagle putt at No. 2 at Upper Montclair Country Club, adding five birdies the rest of the way as she posted her fifth straight round in the 60s. The 23-year-old is targeting her second straight Tour win after winning in Los Angeles last month and then returns to Japan for a break.

The time out didn’t harm her game at the event honoring the 13 founding members of the LPGA Tour.

“Originally I had planned to play in Palos Verdes last week, but I decided to take the two weeks off and prepare for this tournament,” said Hataoka, adding that she rested for three days to deal with her Met a trainer, did strength training and got in for a little practice.

South Korea’s Amy Yang and Italy’s Giulia Molinaro were second and one 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 #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 hit the balls really solidly and created a lot of good chances,” said Yang, who had three top-10 finishes this year. “My putting rolled really nice too and the greens rolled really nice out there.”

Sophia Popov, the 29-year-old German whose only win on the tour was at 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 to miss 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 that event in Arizona in 2019 and at another course in New Jersey last year. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic.

“I want to play a bogey-free round in the 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 recently won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championships, shot a 70 while playing to the exception of a sponsor. She made the cut at the Palos Verdes Championship in California, which was won by Marina Alex.

Alex, from nearby Wayne, New Jersey, needs to rally to make the cut in a field of 144 players after a 74 shot.

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