Alex, Hataoka share lead in windy LPGA Drive On Championship

Feb 3, 2022, 1:20 AM | Updated: 3:23 pm
Inbee Park, of South Korea, tees off on the first hole at the LPGA Drive On Championship golf tourn...

Inbee Park, of South Korea, tees off on the first hole at the LPGA Drive On Championship golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Chris Tilley/The News-Press via AP)

(Chris Tilley/The News-Press via AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Marina Alex closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th for a 7-under 65 and a share of the first-round lead with Nasa Hataoka on Thursday in the windy LPGA Drive On Championship at Crown Colony.

Alex birdied all four par-5 holes and had five birdies in a row on Nos. 9-13 in her bogey-free morning round. The 31-year-old American won the 2018 Portland Classic for her lone LPGA Tour title.

“I really putted nicely today,” Alex said. “The first couple holes were kind of tough just getting used to the wind and figuring out how far everything was playing.”

Hataoka, also playing in the morning wave, finished with a birdie on the par-5 ninth. The 23-year-old Japanese player, ranked No. 9 in the world, won twice last year and has five career LPGA Tour victories.

“I was focused on my putting routine today and that really helped me putt really well,” Hataoka said.

Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand was a stroke back in the 54-hole event with Leona Maguire of Ireland, Linnea Johansson of Sweden and 19-year-old South Korean rookie Yaeeun Hong. Tavatanakit won the major ANA Inspiration last year for her lone LPGA Tour title.

“Today was a little bit different wind than compared to the practice rounds,” Johansson said. “It’s a beautiful golf course. It firms up for sure. It’s bouncing quite a bit out there and the greens are pretty firm. You need to find your areas off the tee and try to bounce it up there really, sometimes.”

Charley Hull was at 67 with Bronte Law, Madelene Sagstrom, Jeongeun Lee6 and Caroline Masson. Stacy Lewis opened with a 68, and Lexi Thompson shot 69.

Defending champion Austin Ernst and fourth-ranked Inbee Park were at 70. Ernst won last year at Golden Ocala in a 72-hole event.

Brooke Henderson had a 71. The Canadian star lives about 15 minutes south of the course.

Second-ranked Nelly Korda shot a 72, offsetting four birdies with four bogeys. Playing for the third straight week, she plans to take a long break after the tournament.

Older sister Jessica Korda withdrew after six holes because of a rib-area injury.

“I’ve suffered a sprain in my ribs with intercostal muscle strain,” Korda tweeted. “I tried playing through it, however, my pain was getting worse and I just could not swing anymore.”

U..S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso, sixth and third the last two weeks to open the season, shot a 77. She had a quadruple-bogey 8 on No. 16.

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Alex, Hataoka share lead in windy LPGA Drive On Championship