ORLANDO, Fla. — Brooke HendersonThe opening day for a new LPGA Tour season was much more enjoyable than the tough, final days of last season.
With her balky back feeling stronger, and swinging a club more freely that she had since October, Henderson attacked Lake Nona with six birdies for a 5-under-67 to take a 1-shot lead in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
Henderson, who placed third in the Race to the CME Globe last season, got off to a fast start with birdies on three out of her first eight holes. To extend her lead by one shot, she added three more holes to her lead against one bogey on the inward nine. Nelly KordaNo. 2 is the highest-ranked player of this weeks winners only field.
It does seem really good, it feels really good, getting off to a warm start, thats always great feeling, said Henderson. Henderson won two times last season, including her second career major at the Evian Championship. Im hoping I can keep it up the next three-days, theres a lot momentum and lots more birdies. If the conditions are going not to change, you really need to go low.
A year ago, players were wearing layers and wool caps in unseasonably warm Florida weather. Thursday was sunny and warm with temperatures in the 80s.
While most players were out of an offseason, only a few showed signs and symptoms of rust. In 2021 and 20,22, there were 17 players who broke par compared to the 29-player field of LPGA champions.
Korda, who won Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona early 2021, almost matched Henderson. He made five birdies and one bogey in his opening 68.
She played alongside Derek Lowe (ex-MLB pitcher), who was the defending champion in the celebrity-athlete division of the mixed field. There is a LPGA pros division and one for celebrities, each with their own prize fund. Lowe and Lowe, who were paired for three rounds at this event last year, spent the day motivating each other to keep making more birdies.
Lowe stated, Im more rooting to her. Its so wonderful to play with her. I hope she wins.
Englands Charley HullFirst-time winners Gemma Dryburgh(Scotland). Ashleigh Buhai(South Africa), opened with 69s. Champion defense Danielle KangShe made it to the top of the leaderboard quickly, but her bogeys at 12 & 13 left her at 1-under-71, tied for ninth.
Hendersons 2022 campaign came to an abrupt halt. She pulled out of her second-to-last November start and finished tied for seventh at the CME Group Tour Championship, Naples, Florida. It was time for some rest and then rehabilitation for the back.
Henderson was armed with a bag full Thursday clubs (so was Korda), and she swung hard. The only problem was a bogey on the par-3 17th. She fanned an 8 iron short and failed to get up or down, but she immediately got the shot back with a birdie on the 388-yard 18. She drove into the fairway, missing only two fairways. Then she hit pitching wedge to 15ft and converted the putt for her last birdie.
What about the back? No pain.
Today it wasnt bad, it was great, no, nothing, not even thinking of it, she said. I just make sure I do the right thing tonight (getting treated) and tomorrow, and hopefully the same going forward.
Its great that you can be aggressive and go after shots again.
Annika Sorenstam (a Lake Nona resident) was the celebrity divisions leader. She is a 72-time LPGA champion. Sorenstam was runner-up in 2022. She earned 39 points in Modified Stableford scoring system. This is two points better than the 2021 champion. Mardy FishFormer tennis star.
Mike McGee her husband and caddie, told her that it was her first ever bogey-free round.
Sorenstam said, Which wasn’t on my mind. But I am obviously very pleased that I play here without a Bogey.