ORLANDO, Fla. — Mexico’s Gaby Lopez kicked off a new year and her seventh season on the LPGA Tour with a simple and potentially prophetic Instagram post: “Surprise Me 2022,” she wrote.
Lopez took the lead in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on Thursday, piecing together what she considered a near-perfect opening round for the new season. She birdied six in a 5-under 67 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.
Lopez led by one shot over a quartet of players at 68 that included three major champions: world No. 1 Nelly Korda, who won her first major last year at the KPMG Women’s PGA; Danielle Kang, 2017 Women’s PGA Champion; and US Open champion Yuka Saso, who missed her final hole.
Also at 68 is Ryann O’Toole, a 34-year-old American who won for the first time last summer.
Lopez is a two-time LPGA Tour winner, her last being a triumph at the 2020 Tournament of Champions across the city, when she outlasted Nasa Hataoka in a seven-hole playoff at Tranquilo Golf Club. This week features a limited field of 29 LPGA Tournament winners from the past three seasons competing alongside 50 celebrities.
Looking back, Lopez said she loved wearing the “champion of champions” crown. Apparently, she enjoyed it enough to immediately jump back into the mix.
For Lopez, her solid game at Lake Nona was a continuation of a hot finish through 2021, when she posted top-10 performances in three of her last four starts.
Lopez said she enjoys competing in the pro-am format of this event because she is able to keep her brain from constantly thinking about golf. Starting on the back nine of Lake Nona, she enjoyed her walk alongside former NFL standout Marcus Allen and former MLB slugger Joe Carter, taking full advantage as she asked them how they approached their sports. respective from a mental point of view.
“I’m comfortable there, I can talk about different topics other than golf and what you did on vacation,” she said. “But being able to talk about mentality and psychology there, I mean with the biggest superstars at each event, it’s pretty amazing. I’m really enjoying it.”
Korda, who won the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona in February, got off to a bad start, bogeying two of her first four holes, but quickly showed the form that took her to four LPGA wins there. is one year old, including his first major. , as well as an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.
She hit three straight holes from the short, par-4 fifth, and went 4 under for her turn when she hit the 222-yard 4-foot hybrid on the 11th from 522 yards to set up an eagle .
After accomplishing so much last season, does she see any openings to improve specific areas of her game?
“Every part of my game,” Korda said. “I mean, the mental aspect, I think even the physical aspect. Every part of the game can improve, always. The game of golf is constantly improving, and you kind of have to move with it.”
Jessica Korda, Nelly’s older sister, opened her Tournament of Champions title defense with a solid 69, playing 17 bogey-free holes before ending with a bogey at the tough 398-yard closing hole.
Michelle Wie West, competing for the first time since the Women’s PGA last summer, started with an under-71 round. She had five birdies during her day, including a series of three birdies that started at the par-5 11th.
She finished in the middle of the afternoon. Then, would she follow her old routine and head straight for the practice tee?
“I’m going straight to bed,” said Wie West, 32 and mother of an 18-month-old daughter, with a smile.
Annika Sorenstam, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who competes on her home course, scored 33 points in the modified Stableford points format to lead the tournament’s celebrity division. Former MLB pitchers Mark Mulder (a former champion) and Derek Lowe, former NHL player Jeremy Roenick and military veteran Chad Pfeifer, who competes on a prosthetic leg, each finished with 32 points.