Mone Inami got her game together at just the right time to win the Japan Classic on Sunday, as overnight co-leader Nasa Hataoka imploded.
Inami, who beat New Zealand’s Lydia Ko in a playoff to finish second behind American Nelly Korda at the Tokyo Games two years ago, said she had been “struggling” heading into the LPGA Tour event co-sanctioned by Japan’s JLPGA Tour.
She began the final day one shot behind Hataoka and Japanese compatriot Shiho Kuwaki and steadily worked her way into the lead with four birdies and a bogey in a three-under-par round of 69.
It was enough to win her the title and earn her the right to take up LPGA Tour membership for the remainder of this season and the whole of 2024, as Hataoka plummeted out of contention.
Inami said she had been “struggling not only with my golf but with my body condition” going into the event at the Taiheiyo Club’s Minori Course, around 100km northeast of Tokyo.
“I haven’t felt comfortable with my swing all year long and changed my swing four times,” she said. “But I got something of a good feeling with my swing this week, it worked well and I won this tournament.”
Ten of the world’s top 30 players were competing as the LPGA finished its four-event Asian swing.
Inami, who has 12 wins on Japan’s JLPGA Tour, recorded her first LPGA Tour victory on her fifth start on the elite circuit.
She said she would “discuss with my team to make a final decision” whether to take up LPGA Tour membership.
Hataoka was looking for her seventh LPGA Tour win but she managed just one birdie alongside a bogey and a double-bogey to card a 74 and finish four shots off the pace.
Inami finished on 22-under 266, a stroke ahead of Kuwaki and South Korea’s Bae Seon-woo, who shot a 67.
Several players made a final-round push, including South Korean veteran Shin Ji-yai, who carded a 65 that included six birdies and one eagle to one bogey.
Shin finished two shots off the lead alongside China’s Lin Xiyu, who looked to have fallen out of contention after a strong start earlier in the week.
Lin, who was looking for her first career win after two runner-up finishes this year, hit six birdies and one bogey in a round of 67.
Defending champion Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland also made a furious late challenge, hitting seven birdies in a bogey-free 65 to finish just three shots off the lead.
Dryburgh finished on 19 under alongside Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura, who finished third behind France’s Celine Boutier and Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul at last week’s Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur.
South Africa’s Paula Reto ended on two-under 286 (T72) after a final-round 73.
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