By Kyle Galdeira
On a day in which low scores came at a premium, a familiar name remains atop the LOTTE Championship leaderboard heading into Saturday’s final round.
Defending tournament champion Brooke Henderson overcame a two-shot deficit to begin Friday’s round by carding a three-under-par 69 to maneuver into a tie for the tourney lead (-14) along with Nelly Korda at the LOTTE Championship Presented by Hershey at a sun-soaked Ko Olina Golf Club in ‘Ewa, O‘ahu.
Henderson and Korda are joined atop the leaderboard by Eun-Hee Ji and Minjee Lee (-13), and Saturday’s championship push should make for a thrilling finish.
“It was really windy today … really had to stay patient,” said Henderson. “I kind of fought through my front nine a little bit. Bogeyed the second hole … but made a birdie on 5. Hitting good shots; just not really making birdies.”
If Henderson can claim the victory on Saturday, it would mark her second career title defense –she was the 2015 and 2016 champion of the Cambia Portland Classic. If she claims her eighth career victory at Ko Olina tomorrow, she would also tie the record for most victories on the LPGA or PGA Tour by a Canadian, joining Sandra Post, Mike Weir, and George Knudson.
“The back nine, I made a lot of birdies, which was a lot of fun,” added Henderson. “Couple saves for par, too. Would’ve been nice to finish 18 with a par, but I’m excited to have moved up a little bit today. Just looking forward to tomorrow.”
Korda, a third-year pro who claimed victory earlier this year at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, already has five top-10 finishes to her credit in 2019. She was agitated with her performance on Friday that included three bogeys, despite regaining momentum on the back nine to finish with a 71.
“(It) was a bit of a frustrating day on the front nine,” said Korda. “I was not hitting it well … not putting well at all. Kind of got it back on the back nine. It was frustrating today. I wasn’t the happiest camper out there.”
Golfers dealt with steady breezes and strong gusts of wind that provided some respite from the hot, humid conditions that have persisted throughout the tourney along the 6,307-yard course.
Ariya Jutanugarn turned in one of the day’s top performances with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 and is in fifth place, but remains just two strokes off the tournament lead.
Local professional Michelle Wie struggled with an injury and did not make it through Thursday’s cut. The LPGA tour veteran and Punahou product, who won the tourney in 2014, finished tied for 141st place with an overall mark of 10-over.
Competitors in the 144-woman field are vying for the $300,000 championship prize as part of the event’s $2 million purse.
(Photos by Andrew Lee / Hawaii Media Source)