The winningest golfer in Canadian history has added another title to her resume, claiming the first trophy of the 2023 LPGA Tour season at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Brooke Henderson, competing against 28 fellow LPGA Tour winners from the past two seasons, took the lead at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club on Thursday and never looked back, earning her third career wire-to-wire victory. On championship Sunday, the 25-year-old secured her 13th Tour victory with a 2-under 70 final, which put her at -16 total for the week.
“It is a really talented field. It’s Tournament of Champions, so it’s really the best,” Henderson said. “It was really cool to get off to the hot start we did and carry it all the way through, and to have consistent and under-par rounds was really exciting… Coming into this week I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was kind of the dream start, which is really exciting looking forward to the rest of 2023.”
Windy conditions on Sunday were a challenge for the entire field, who struggled to put the pressure on Henderson’s lead. After 54 holes, the two-time major champion was leading the field by three strokes and, despite recording her highest score of the week on Sunday, increased that lead to four strokes over runners-up Maja Stark and Charley Hull. Henderson struggled to find her target throughout the round, hitting just six of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation, but she excelled at scrambling and putting, her greatest strength throughout the week. With three bridies and just one bogey on the card, her final round at Lake Nona marked her 16th consecutive round under par on the LPGA Tour and also at the HGV Tournament of Champions.
“I feel like a lot of my wins have come in windy conditions. I wasn’t happy to see it so windy, but it didn’t really shake us too much,” Henderson explained. “It was really difficult conditions today, at least I was finding it that way, so really happy with the 2-under round. Not as many birdies on the card, not as many good looks, but I feel like the ball striking was still very consistent.”
Coming into the first event of the year, Henderson had mixed expectations. She struggled with a back injury during the last two events of the 2022 season, leading to her withdrawal from one of those events, and needed her wisdom teeth pulled after the season. Both factors limited her time on the course during the off-season. On the flip side, Henderson’s had a lot of confidence in her new TaylorMade clubs and was expecting to make good use of them.
“With everything that went on in the off-season, so many things happening, this just feels really, really good. Every year I try to win at least twice on tour, so this is a really good start to get one so early. Takes a little pressure off,” said Henderson, who now has three wins in 13 starts, her best stretch on the LPGA Tour. “(My confidence is) pretty high right now. I think just lots of hard work and it’s paying off, getting breaks at the right time.”
Stark and Hull started the day at -9 and T4 on the leaderboard. Stark got off to a rough start during the final round, scoring three bogeys in her first eight holes. She made a stellar comeback at the turn however, sinking six birdies in the last ten holes including a small streak on Nos. 15-17. Hull was up and down throughout the day, recording a birdie, double bogey and birdie on 5, 6 and 7, followed by an incredible eagle on the par-5 ninth. She added three more birdies on the back and two more bogeys to earn her fourth consecutive 69 despite the tricky conditions.
“Struck my driver down there (on 9). Hit a great 4-iron in to about six, seven feet, and holed the putt, which was good. Shame I made bogey on 10 and bogey on 15, but I bounced back on 18,” Hull explained. “That was a tricky little putt down that hill, and I found putting hard in those conditions today, because the greens are so fast and the wind blowing off the lake, you don’t know what it’s going to do the with ball too much.”
Rolex Rankings World No. 2 Nelly Korda finished in solo fourth and six-time LPGA Tour winner Nasa Hataoka ended fifth. Tied for sixth was Paula Reto, Yuka Saso and Gaby Lopez, with Leona Maguire and Ashleigh Buhai rounding out the top 10 in a tie for ninth. American tennis star Mardy Fish earned his second HGV Tournament of Champions victory on the celebrity side of the event, collecting 152 total Stableford points after 72 holes, 16 points clear of former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder (136), who made a big run on Sunday and collected solo second. The 2021 U.S. Disabled Open winner and veteran Chad Pfeifer along with 10-time major champion Annika Sorenstam finished T3 with 133 points.