Hataoka retains Marathon LPGA Classic lead

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Another birdie-blitz has ensured Nasa Hataoka will head into the weekend on top of the leaderboard at the Marathon LPGA Classic.

A day after making six straight birdies in an opening 10-under 61, the 22-year-old Japanese player had four in a row on Nos. 14-17 to salvage a 69 on Friday.

"My shots were not as good as yesterday," Hataoka said. "Didn't have that many chances. I had a lot of problems, but I was able to fix that for the last part and bring it back up."

Her lead was cut from four to two strokes, with American Mina Harigae second after her second straight bogey-free 66.

Hataoka had a 12-under 130 total at Highland Meadows. She played the first nine in one over with two birdies and three bogeys and dropped another shot on 13 before rallying with the late birdie burst.

"I was kind of stiff on impact and I was able to realise that and adjusted to relax myself and that brought those birdies," Hataoka said.

The three-time LPGA Tour winner lost a playoff to Yuka Saso a month ago in the US Women's Open at Olympic Club.

She took last week off after tying for 29th in Michigan and missing the cut in the Women's PGA.

The 31-year-old Harigae is winless on the LPGA Tour.

"I feel really confident, comfortable with all aspects of my game," Harigae said. "Everything just kind of feels solid and everything is kind of flowing together, so it feels really good."

Fellow US players Alison Lee and Elizabeth Szokol each shot 66 to get to nine under.

The resurgent Lee birdied the final three holes on the layout that closes with consecutive par 5s.

"It's been a really long time since I've seen my name on the leaderboard like this," Lee said. "Putting myself in contention for the weekend, it feels really, really good. It almost makes it as though two years didn't happen, which is awesome to feel."

Szokol also made a big move on Highland Meadows' back nine, birdieing the last three and five of the final six in the round that began on No. 10.

"I'm just really looking forward to it - 36 more holes," Szokol said. "I really like this golf course, so just see what the weekend brings. I'm excited to have fans back."

Three more Americans - Jennifer Kupcho (65), Gerina Piller (65) and Lauren Stephenson (69) - are at eight under with Esther Henseleit (64) of Germany and Chella Choi (66) of South Korea.

Kupcho, Piller, Henseleit and Choi also birdied Nos. 17 and 18.

Defending champion Danielle Kang was at seven under after a 65, one shot ahead of Australian Su Oh.

Oh is tied 16th, following up her opening 69 with an impressive four-under 67.

Compatriots Katherine Kirk (71) and Sarah Kemp (72) squeezed in with even-par totals to make the weekend.

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