Brooke Henderson slips, still leads by 3 in LPGA season opener

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Brooke HendersonAfter being in complete control for two days, she was forced to play Saturday. The result was a 3-under-69 and a 3-shot lead at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.

Henderson was up for the fight, moving to 14-under 220 in the LPGA Tour season debut at Lake Nona. The Canadian will have a 3-shot advantage over Henderson. Nelly Korda(68), and Nasa Hataoka (66), into the final round.

Maja StarkSweden (68). Charley HullEngland (69) trailed by 5.

After a slow start on her second nine that included a par-4 bogey at her 12th, Henderson managed to play a 30-foot curler for birdie.

It was a huge bonus, returning a small dose of momentum after her game had surprisingly stalled after 2½ rounds of red-hot play.

Henderson missed a short birdie shot at the 14th hole, a par-4 where the green was pushed up to only 229yds. She also failed to make birdie at par-5 15, where her approach shot pulled left of the water-guarded green, but she still managed to stay up. She settled for par, not making the most of the break. Then, she was hit by the unexpected slider on 16, which gave her a much-needed lift.

That putt at 16 was a huge help, said Henderson who is chasing her 13th LPGA win. She won twice last season, including the Evian Championship in France, her second major. However, she ended the year with a bad back. It wasn’t as smooth today but big putts like those in big moments definitely help.

Henderson opened the day with a 4-shot lead and grew that to five by the time she reached the turn. The tournament was halted at 12 when Henderson made a bogey.

Henderson was up to the challenge and even embraced it. After having ended 2022 with an injury that required rehab and rest, Henderson is ready to take on the challenge of 2023. With 14 new clubs in her bag, she is just where she wants it to be for the start of the season.

Henderson stated that it was just so much fun to play in contention and in one of the final groups on Saturday and right in the middle of the action. Thats the best feeling there is.

Hataoka, six-time winner of the tour, was the hottest player at the course. She made birdies on seven holes, posted a back-nine 30, and signed for a 66, which put her in a position to chase Henderson on Sunday.

Hataoka stated, Yeah I was dialed-in. She stated that everything changed when she made a birdie on the par-5 ninth to climb back up to level par for the day. So happy that I was able change that.

Korda was also sidelined for four more months in the early 2022 following a bloodclot that had been removed from her left hand. It took her a while to get moving again. Her putter was not cooperative on the first nine and has not been this week. She suddenly made four birdies in a five-hole stretch that began at the 11th. This was a sign that Hendersons final round will need to be solid.

What is Kordas key to Sunday? She needs to get off to an easier start. She failed to make birdies on the front nine in all three rounds.

Korda stated that I think its just up to you to find the bottom of this hole. Thats whats important out here. I dont know the weather, but they project it to be windy. So just hit some consistent shots and get the ball in the cup.

Mardy Fish, a retired tennis player, continued to dominate 56-player celebrity division. He has extended his lead in Modified Stableford points format by 14 points.

The second race in that division is the most interesting. Fish (117 points), 2021 champion, has a huge lead over Chad Pfeifer (103) and former NHL star Jeremy Roenick (103) while Annika Sorenstam (102) is a Lake Nona resident.

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