In the last four years of the TOTO Japan Classic, there have been three Japanese players who have risen to the top to win in their home country in the LPGA Tour’s lone stop in Japan. Nasa Hataoka and Ai Suzuki won in 2018 and 2019, respectively, the last two years of the co-sanctioned nature of the event. In 2021, Ayaka Furue captured the title as a JLPGA-only tournament, besting 2020 Tokyo Olympic Silver Medalist Mone Inami by three shots. Furue now returns to Seta Golf Course for the first time since becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open this past summer, which included her career-low round on Tour, a final-round 62.

According to KPMG Performance Insights, Furue has been one of the best putters on Tour this season, ranking second in shots gained putting (+1.32), fifth in putting from 5-10 feet (68.6%), T7 in 3-putts per round (.42) and eighth in putting from 15-20 feet (24.4%). She’s hoping to carry her dominating putting performance into this week at Seta.

“I won this tournament last year. But there was no player from the LPGA Tour. So, it is totally different from last year,” said Furue, whose victory last year in Shiga was her sixth-career win on the JLPGA. “The slopes of some of the greens are pretty tight. It would be a key to have an uphill putt as much as possible.”

Suzuki, the official defending champion of the co-sanctioned tournament, went on to win the next week in 2019 on the JLPGA following the TOTO Japan Classic, at the Ito En Ladies Golf Tournament. Since that victory – in a season where she won seven times total on the JLPGA and ended the year the leading money winner – she’s only added one additional win, at the 2021 Shiseido Ladies Open. Now, Suzuki makes her return to LPGA Tour competition for the first time since withdrawing prior to the second round of the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles due to illness.

“Frankly, I won this tournament in 2019 and three years is long enough to forget most things at that time,” said Suzuki. “But, I really look forward to playing with players from the LPGA Tour this week.”

For Hataoka, life is a bit different since her win in Japan in 2018. She’s added four more titles to the trophy case, including her most recent, the 2022 DIO Implant LA Open. After the victory at Wilshire Country Club, the 23-year-old has notched six additional top-10 finishes on Tour, and is coming off a T47 finish in last week’s Mitsubishi Electric/Hisako Higuchi Ladies Golf Tournament on the JLPGA. Hataoka, who currently ranks second on the LPGA Tour in first-round scoring average, has not recorded an opening round score over par in any LPGA Tour event since the LOTTE Championship in April, and isn’t looking to break that streak on Thursday in Shiga.

“My goal for this season is multiple wins. I will play two more tournaments this year including this one,” said Hataoka. “So I want to play well and win at least one to achieve my goal for this year.”

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