ORLANDO, Fla. — If you told Brooke Henderson on Wednesday she would be leading by three shots heading into the final round of her first event with new clubs, after an off-season rehabbing an injury, she would have taken that.
Except she is the first person to acknowledge her current position could be even better.
Henderson shot a 3-under 69 in the third round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and is at 14 under through 54 holes. Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and world No. 2 Nelly Korda are tied for second at 11 under.
At one point, however, Henderson had a six-shot cushion.
The putts weren’t falling like they had been the previous two days (she needed 30 swipes in the third round versus just 27 and 28, respectively, on Thursday and Friday) and needed to scramble a few times on the back nine.
“I wasn’t as smooth out there today but I feel like we fought it out pretty well,” Henderson said. “I still was hitting the ball very well and giving myself a lot of opportunities, so no complaints there.”
Hataoka tied the tournament-best round with a 6-under 66 and zipped up the leaderboard with seven birdies over her final 10 holes. Korda, sidelined for four months last year after having surgery for a blood clot in her arm, made five birdies in seven holes after making the turn. She finished with a 4-under 68.
“On the back nine, I kind of picked a target, a little bit more of an aggressive target, and really dialed into that,” Korda said.
Henderson, meanwhile, birdied both par fives on the front nine to go out in 2 under. She added another birdie on the par-4 11th before making her first bogey of the week on 12 after leaving her approach shot short and missing a 20-foot par attempt. But she snaked in a long birdie on the par-4 16th to get it back.
She added a clutch par-saver on 18 after a nifty bump-and-run with a hybrid to six feet.
“That putt on 16 was a huge help,” she said. “I had missed two short birdie putts on 14 and 15, so to make a long bomb like that, that was sliding, I was super excited to make that, and so it just kind of gave it a little bit of momentum and was able to make two pretty decent par saves on 17 and 18. Big putts like that in big moments definitely help.”
After playing with the top celebrities the last two days, Henderson will be grouped with only pros — Hataoka and Korda — for the final round from Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. She has long embraced this event as an exciting start to the year — socialite-turned-deejay Paris Hilton was driving around a bedazzled cart Saturday afternoon — but said pivoting to a “normal” LPGA Tour-style Sunday is going to be good for her confidence.
“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.”
Henderson is looking to win wire-to-wire for the third time in her career, with the others coming in 2016 at the Portland Classic and in 2019 at the Meijer LPGA Classic. She will be chasing her 13th LPGA Tour title.
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