Henderson stops but still leads by 3 in LPGA season opener

Henderson stops but still leads by 3 in LPGA season opener

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Brooke Henderson went from being in complete control of her game for two days to having to score big on Saturday. The result was a 3-under 69 and a three-shot lead in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.

Henderson was ready for a fight, moving to 14-under 202 in the LPGA Tour season opener at Lake Nona. The Canadian will take a three shot lead over Japan’s Nelly Korda (68) and Nasa Hataoka (66) in the final round.

Sweden’s Maja Stark (68) and England’s Charley Hull (69) go for five.

After a pedestrian stretch of golf early on his second nine that included a bogey on the par-4 12th hole, just his second bogey of the week, Henderson managed to slide into a 30-foot birdie curler from the left side of the 16th hole. . .

It was a huge bonus, returning a small dose of momentum after his game had surprisingly stalled after 2 1/2 rounds of red-hot play.

Henderson missed a short birdie putt on the 14th hole, a par 4 where the tee was pushed up just 229 yards, and was unable to swing up and down for birdie on the achievable par 5 15, where his approach shot drifted to the left of the green sheltered by water, but at least he was lucky to stay awake. He didn’t make the most of the break, settling for par. Then came the unexpected slider at 16, which provided a nice and needed boost.

“That putt on 16 was a big help,” said Henderson, who is seeking his 13th LPGA win. Last season he won twice, including his second major, the Evian Championship in France, but ended the year with back problems. “It wasn’t quite as smooth today, but big putts like that in big moments definitely help.”

Henderson started the day with a four shot lead and stretched the lead to five when she made the spin. Then came the bogey at 12, and with Hataoka and Korda closing fast on the final holes, the tournament started up again.

Henderson was up for the challenge and accepted it, indeed. Having finished 2022 delayed by injury requiring rest and rehab, and with 14 new clubs in the bag to start 2023, he’s right where he wants to be on the first Sunday of the season.

“It’s a lot of fun to be in contention and in the final groups on the weekend and right in the mix,” Henderson said. “That’s the best feeling there is.”

Hataoka, a six-time tour winner, was the hottest player on the course, birding seven of her last 10 holes, scoring 30 on her final nine and shooting a 66 that put her in position to try to chase Henderson. on Sunday.

“Yes, they called me,” Hataoka said. She said that when she birdied the par-5 ninth to get back up to par for the day, everything in her game changed. “So happy that I was able to change that.”

Similarly, Korda, who was sidelined for four months in early 2022 after having a blood clot removed from his left arm, took a while to get going. His putter wasn’t very cooperative on the front nine, and he hasn’t been all week. Suddenly, he made four birdies in a five-hole stretch that began on the 11th to ensure Henderson’s final round will have to be solid to prevail.

Korda’s key for Sunday? For one, she needs to get off to a better start. In all three rounds she struggled to birdie the front nine.

“I think you just have to find the bottom of the hole,” Korda said. “That is the key here. I don’t know what the weather is supposed to be like, but they’re projecting it to be very windy, so just hit some consistent shots and get the ball into the cup.”

Retired tennis player Mardy Fish continued to dominate the 56-player celebrity division, extending his lead in the Modified Stableford points format to 14 points.

The most interesting race on Sunday in that division should be for second. Fish (117 points), the 2021 champion, opened up a huge lead over military veteran Chad Pfeifer (103), former NHL standout Jeremy Roenick (103) and Lake Nona resident and LPGA great Annika Sorenstam (102). .

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