ORLANDO, Fla. – Lydia Ko moved inside the gates at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club Christmas of 2019. Her mom got the place fixed up while Ko competed in the Asian swing that year. It turned out to be a great time to move as the world shut down not long after Ko set up shop in the tony community and never left.
“It was great that I could be inside the gates and I remember not being in a car for like three months,” said Ko of the 2020 pandemic. “I stayed in here, drove the cart around, and that’s it.
With one round to go in the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, Ko holds a two-stroke lead over LPGA sophomore Alexa Pano, the former Netflix star who won in her rookie year on the LPGA in Northern Ireland.
The Kiwi shot 4-under 68 on a frigid day in central Florida, her last bogey coming on the 17th hole of the first round. Ko sits at 12 under for the tournament with another chilly day on the horizon.
Tournament of Champions: Photos
Pano, meanwhile, carded the first bogey-free round of her LPGA career on Saturday, a 5-under 67, noting that her father/caddie, Rick, is particularly enjoying the celebrity portion of the event. Pano, a Massachusetts native, played alongside former Celtics player Ray Allen in the opening round and former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens in the second round.
“It’s really nice to have him with me this week and let him fan-girl a little bit,” said Pano.
Longtime Nona resident Annika Sorenstam stumbled in with a back-nine 43 to fall one point back of former NHL player Jeremy Roenick, who leads with 107 points in the Modified Stableford format. Sorenstam sits tied with former MLB All-Star Derek Lowe, who beat her in a playoff two years ago at this event.
“Very disappointed with the back nine,” said Sorenstam, “especially because I like the back nine. I don’t know why. Just didn’t happen.”
Now only two points shy of the 27 required to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, Ko could move one point closer with a victory at her home club. After a shockingly poor 2023 LPGA season, Ko sought the guidance of a new swing instructor in Si Woo Lee, who came to Lake Nona ahead of the Grant Thornton Invitational. Ko, of course, went on to win alongside partner Jason Day at Tiburon Golf Club, giving her a much-needed boost as she entered a relatively short offseason.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Jason Day of Australia celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2023 Grant Thornton Invitational at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
When asked if this felt like a continuation from an event she won just over a month ago, Ko said every day she feels like a new person. But there’s no denying it helped.
“I think he gave me like confidence in myself when I felt like I was letting the team down a little bit,” she said. “To see the things that I worked with my coach kind of work out, and for me to hit some of those really good shots coming down the stretch when it like meant the most, I think it gave me a little bit of assurance to say, hey, what I’m doing is good.”