Henderson on track in LPGA season opener

Back from the injury that slowed her end to 2022, Brooke Henderson is up for the challenge of defending a three-shot lead in the final round of the LPGA Tour's Tournament of Champions.

World No.7 Henderson lacked the mastery of the first two rounds but still eked out a three-under 69 at Lake Nona in Florida on Saturday.

She got to 14-under 202 and leads the LPGA Tour season opener from world No.2 Nelly Korda (68) and No.10 Nasa Hataoka of Japan (66) who are tied second.

Maja Stark of Sweden (68) and Charley Hull of England (69) trail by five.

Canadian Henderson is chasing her 13th LPGA victory. Last season she won twice, including her second major, the Evian Championship in France, but ended the year struggling with a bad back that required rest.

Carrying 14 new clubs in the bag to start 2023, she is right where she wants to be for the first Sunday of the season.

"It's just so much 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 that there is."

Hataoka, a six-time winner on tour, was the hottest player on the course on saturday, making birdies on seven of her final 10 holes, posting a back-nine 30 and signing for a 66 that left her in position to try to chase down Henderson.

"Yeah, I was dialed in," Hataoka said.

Likewise, Korda, sidelined four months in early 2022 after a blood clot was removed from her left arm, took a while to get going.

Her putter wasn't very cooperative on the opening nine, and hasn't been all week. Suddenly she ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at the 11th to assure that 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 make birdies on the front nine.

"I think you've just got to find the bottom of the hole," Korda said. "That's the key out here. I don't know what the weather is supposed to be like, but they're projecting it to be pretty windy, so just hitting some consistent shots and getting the ball in the cup."