Story by Steve Eubanks
Under sunny Florida skies in Fort Myers, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and American Marina Alex topped the leaderboard after the first round of the LPGA Drive On Championship by posting 7-under 65s. Hataoka made eight birdies, with seven of them coming after her lone bogey on No. 13, her fourth hole of the day.
“Not the best bogey I could have, but it wasn’t something technical. It was more of a misjudge on my club, reading with the wind. I was able to handle that,” said Hataoka. “I was putting really well. I was able to read the green and green speed and with the routine that helped me a lot, which resulted in a good stroke today.”
Hataoka has a strong track record at 54-hole events. Her last two victories occurred at three-round events, including the 2021 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and the Dana Open, when the fourth round was washed out due to rain. Of her five Tour wins, four were earned at three-round tournaments.
“Three-day tournaments, yes, I have a good image of it, so hopefully I can play two more good rounds,” said Hataoka.
Alex posted her first bogey-free round since the 2021 Pelican Women’s Championship. Her 65 is her lowest 18-hole score since a 64 in the third round of the 2019 Indy Women in Tech Championship, where Alex ultimately finished third.
“I really putted nicely today. The first couple holes were kind of tough just getting used to the wind and figuring out, you know, how far everything was playing,” said Alex. “I made a really good save on — I want to say it was No.4 I think it was, long par-4. I really miss-clubbed myself off the tee and was way back and then had like a 3-wood in. Made a good up and down to keep some good momentum going.”
She recorded five-straight birdies from Nos. 9-13, which ties her longest consecutive birdie streak, last made during the first round of her win at the 2018 Cambia Portland Classic. The site of her maiden win on Tour was also the last time Alex held the lead/co-lead after 18-holes.
“54-hole events are always kind of important to have a good start because you have that one less day to possibly make up ground if you’re a little bit behind. So I’ve had some good success in 54-hole events in the past. I’m excited for the next two days, and just see what happens,” said Alex. “I played a really great round of golf today, so I have to anticipate there might be a little bit of some up and downs along the way. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a great week out here.”
Epson Tour alums Linnea Johansson, Leona Maguire and Patty Tavatanakit sit in a tie for third at -6. Tavatanakit, who finished T13 in the first two events of the season, said she changed up her practice routine this week to focus on getting the most out of her scoring capabilities.
“I think on the range I kind of let go of the technique a little bit and starting to combine the feel and a little bit of technique and try to like obviously hit it to the target a little bit better,” said Tavatanakit. “It’s just more mental and just being focused in every shot.”
Six players sit in a tie for sixth at -5, including Maude-Aimee Leblanc, who notched her second-career top-10 finish last week at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, and major champion Jeongeun Lee6. Jessica Korda withdrew after six holes during the first round, and later revealed on social media that it was due to a sprain in her ribs with intercoastal muscle strain.