BELLEAIR, Fla. (AP) — Brooke Henderson was bothered by seeing so many low scores before she even teed off Thursday on the LPGA Tour. She just went out and putted for birdie on every hole, opening with an 8-under 62 for a one-shot lead in The Annika.
Henderson made a long birdie putt on her final hole, the par-3 ninth, for a 29 on the front nine to move past a group that included Jin Young Ko and Patty Tavatanakit.
“Up until this year, ball-striking has definitely been a strength of mine, and hasn’t been as sharp as I would like the last couple months,” said Henderson, who switched irons recently and felt she was headed in the right direction.
“To hit all 18 greens is more what I used to be used to a little while ago,” the Canadian said. “It feels amazing not to have to get up and down and give myself a lot of birdie opportunities.”
Henderson won the season opener in Florida and hasn’t won since, falling to No. 13 in the women’s world ranking and coming in at No. 14 in the Race to CME Globe.
This is the last tournament for the top 60 players to reach the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship down the coast in Naples. That’s not an issue for Henderson or Ko, who is No. 5 on the strength of two LPGA victories.
It’s a different story for the others who were at 63. Tavatanakit, a former major champion, is at No. 61 and got off to the ideal start.
“I’ve been like preparing for this event. Obviously, I knew what I had to do,” Tavatanakit said. “I’m pretty stressed, but at the same time, I feel like I did everything under my control. I did everything with no regrets. I’m just going to be out here and know at the back of my mind that I did everything I could.”
Emily Kristine Pedersen is at No. 80 and Minami Katsu of Japan is at No. 78. They also were at 63. Katsu rallied late on a beautiful day at Pelican Golf Club, starting the back nine with five birdies in six holes to get near the top of the leaderboard.
Lexi Thompson, playing for the first time since missing the cut by three shots in Las Vegas on the PGA Tour, opened with a 64 and was in a five-way tie for sixth. She has gone more than four years without winning, and she’ll likely need to finish third or better to make it to the season finale in Naples.
She started on the back nine, made the turn and ran off four birdies in five holes.
“I just went into the day knowing I had to make birdies,” Thompson said. “It was perfect weather — maybe 5 miles per hour when it gusted — so ideal weather for us. I knew I had to make birdies, but I just tried to stick to my game plan with my swing shots and fire at the pins and give myself as many birdie opportunities.
Defending champion Nelly Korda opened with a 70.
Lydia Ko had to settle for a 67 and at No. 101 in the Race to CME Globe, she likely would have to be alone in second to reach the Tour Championship and defend her title.
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