Orlando, Fla. – Brock Henderson went from completely dominating the game for two days to Saturday. The result was a 3-under 69 and a three-shot lead at the Hilton Grand Vacation Tournament of Champions.
Henderson prepared for the challenge and moved to 14-over 202 in the LPGA Tour season opener at Lake Nona. The Canadian has a three-shot lead over Nellie Korda (68) and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka (66).
Sweden’s Maja Stark (68) and England’s Charlie Hull (69) followed with five.
After a stretch of golf at the start of the second nine that included a bogey on the par-4 12th — only her second bogey of the week — Henderson was able to slide a 30-foot curler for birdie from the left side of the 16th green.
It was a huge bonus that her game had regained a bit of momentum after a surprisingly halting 2 1/2 rounds of red-hot play.
Henderson missed a short birdie putt on the 14th hole – the par 4 tee pushed just 229 yards – and failed to get up and down for a birdie on the reachable par-5 15th, pulling her approach shot left. Water-protected green, however, at least had a good chance of staying. She didn’t use her vacation time properly, it was sitting evenly. Then came the unexpected slide at 16, which was a good and important, lift.
“Getting on 16 was a big help,” said Henderson, who is chasing her 13th LPGA victory. Last season she won twice, including her second top-flight championship at France’s Evian, but ended the year struggling with a bad back. “It wasn’t that smooth today, but big chunks like that in the big time definitely help.”
Henderson started the day four shots ahead and extended the lead to five at the turn. Then came a bogey at 12, and when Hataoka and Korda closed quickly on the final holes, the race was back on.
Henderson was prepared for the challenge, accepted it, in fact. In the year After an injury-delayed 2022 that required rest and recovery, and with 14 new clubs in the bag to start 2023, she’s where she wants to be on the first Sunday of the season.
“It’s exciting to be in contention at the weekend and in the final teams,” Henderson said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Hataoka, a six-time winner on tour, was the hottest player on the course, making birdies on seven of the final 10 holes, posting a 30 on the back nine and carding a 66 to keep her from trying to unseat Henderson. on Sunday.
“Yes, I was called,” Hataoka said. Her game changed everything when she birdied the par-5 9th to get back on par for the day. “I’m very happy to be able to change that.”
Similarly, Korda, four months out from injury after having a blood clot removed from her left arm in early 2022, took a while to get going. Her putting wasn’t very cooperative on the opening nine, and hasn’t been all week. She suddenly ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at the 11th to ensure Henderson’s final round must be strong enough to win.
Corda Key for Sunday? One must go to a better start. She struggled to make birdies on the front nine in all three rounds.
“I think you need to find the bottom of the well,” Korda said. “That’s the key to this. I don’t know what the weather is supposed to be, but you’re assuming it’s going to be very windy, so hitting some consistent shots and getting the ball in the cup.”
Retired tennis player Mardy Fish continued to dominate the 56-player Hall of Fame with 14 points in the Modified Stableford points format.
Sunday’s most exciting race should be second in that division. Fish (117 points), the 2021 champion, opened a big lead over military veteran Chad Pfeiffer (103), former NHL standout Jeremy Roenick (103) and Lake Nona resident and LPGA great Annika Sorenstam (102).