Lydia Ko, determined to bounce back from dismal 2023, tied for lead after 36 holes in LPGA opener

A little more than a month ago, Lydia Ko teamed with Jason Day to win the inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational, a new mixed team event for LPGA and PGA Tour players.

But a win this week would be a much bigger deal for Ko.

The 2022 champion of the CME Group Tour Championship didn’t qualify in 2023 and therefore couldn’t defend her title in the season-ender, putting a cap on a most disappointing season, her 10th on the LPGA.

But it appears that GTI win sparked something in her game.

Ko has opened 69-67 at her home course at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and will head to the weekend tied for the lead with Ayaka Furue, who shot 65-71.

“I think Grant Thornton helped a lot,” she said Friday afternoon. “We did a lot of good work the week before with my coach flying over and spending some time here at Lake Nona. I think even though you do good work, at the end of the day you got to pull it off and make that work when you’re playing and playing competitive rounds.

“Even though it was a unique format at Grant Thornton, I think it just was really beneficial week for me to kind of be in positions where I was uncomfortable and still be able to commit to my shots.”

So far this week she has eight birdies and eagle and just two bogeys. She had eight straight pars before a closing birdie in Friday’s round even as the weather turned a bit sour.

Ko, who is committed to a more aggressive schedule this season, has the comforts of home right around the corner as she seeks her 20th career victory but admits she has to make sure she’s not too comfortable.

“I have forgotten to set my alarm once and I turned up to the golf course later than I normally do because I was so used to being at home, sleeping in my own bed, so I’m trying to not make that mistake this year.”

The tournament also features a celebrity division, made up of pro golfers, former pro athletes from baseball, basketball and hockey as well as actors and comedians. Tied atop that leaderboard is Annika Sorenstam and former NHL standout Jeremy Roenick. They each have 75 points using the Modified Stableford scoring system.

2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions
2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions

Annika Sorenstam acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the second round of the 2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando. (Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

“The weather in the end got a little iffy,” Sorenstam said. “I would say today was a good scramble day. Really scrambled out there. Didn’t hit as many good shots as yesterday. Just didn’t give up. Kept on fighting. Missed few more greens. Had to do some more chipping today. Just hung in there.”

Roenick sounded more than pleased with his round.

“I played well today. I think I shot 69 or 70 today, which was amazing. Didn’t make any mistakes. Just kept it on board,” he said.

Back on the main leaderboard, Gemma Dryburgh and Gaby Lopez are tied for third after 36 holes. Tied for fifth is defending tournament champ Brooke Henderson and Alexa Pano, in her second year on the LPGA.

“I was kind of a mess when I first started as a rookie last year, and I feel a lot more comfortable and got a good hang on things,” she said. “I worked really hard this off-season to be ready for this. I think this is the fun part. This is getting to see it all come to fruition.”

Other notables in the field of 35 include: Nelly Korda (4 under, T-7), Rose Zhang (4 under, T-7), world No. 1 Lilia Vu (2 under, T-16) and Danielle Kang (T-31, 3 over).

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek