Mexico’s Gaby Lopez kicked off the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions with a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead after 18 holes. Starting on No. 10 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, Lopez bogeyed No. 11 but carded six birdies over the next 16 holes.
“Today was a pretty clean round. I think we barely made any mistakes,” said Lopez, who only missed two greens on Thursday. “My caddie and I did a great job with strategy, just being able to attack the pins that we were comfortable with. The ones that we were not, just going to be smart. And being able to hit the shots that I want, it's really nice.”
The day continued her outstanding season-opening run of Tournament of Champions success. Lopez was tied for second after the first round in both 2020, when she went on to win the tournament, and 2021, when she tied for 11th. On Thursday, Lopez played alongside Super Bowl champion Marcus Allen and World Series champion Joe Carter and said that the celebrity company really helps her thrive in this competition.
“I'm comfortable out there, being able to talk different topics other than golf and what you did in the holidays. But being able to talk about mentality and psychology out there, I mean with the biggest superstars in each event out there, it's pretty amazing,” said Lopez, who only missed two greens on Thursday. “So I really take advantage of that. I like to grow internally, not only on the golf course, so that motivates me.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Nelly Korda and 2021 Tournament of Champions runner-up Danielle Kang are among four players tied for second at -4. Korda was +2 through four holes but cranked out three straight birdies to pull into red numbers. “I was just kind of spraying it everywhere, left, right, you name it,” she said. “I was just like, Okay, so this is going to be a grind today, which it was. I still hit some loose shots here and there coming in but hit it close on those three holes and kind of capitalized on that.”
Korda played the back nine at 3-under, including the LPGA Tour’s first eagle of the 2022 season after putting her approach from 222 yards to 4 feet on 11. She has previously seen success on this course, winning the 2021 Gainbridge LPGA that was held at Lake Nona.
Kang carded one bogey and five birdies on Thursday, including a birdie on No. 18 to jump into the tie for second. “It was kind of a little rusty, but I made really good putts; missed a few. I think on the first hole I almost three-putted from about 4 feet. I hit a 4-footer I think 7, 8 feet by. That was kind of fun,” said Kang, who played with World Series champs Mark Mulder and Greg Maddux. “I was more worried about or focused on what I needed to work on so I wasn't really focused on the results more so than anything.”
Joining Kang and Korda at -4 are 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso and 2021 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open winner Ryann O’Toole, both making their tournament debuts. Defending Tournament of Champions winner Jessica Korda, who beat Kang in a one-hole playoff in 2021, opened with a 3-under 69 and is tied for fifth alongside Pajaree Anannarukarn and Brooke Henderson.
In the celebrity competition, 72-time LPGA Tour winner and Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam used her home-course advantage to her favor. She leads the field at +33, one point clear of defending celebrity champion and U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish, MLB All-Star Mark Mulder, NHL All-Star Jeremy Roenick and Wounded Warrior Chad Pfeifer. The celebrity competition is under a Modified Stableford scoring system.
“I don't play these tees on my own. I go to the forward tees a little bit,” said Sorenstam, who lives on the 16th hole at Lake Nona. “But it's in amazing shape. So nice. Greens are rolling beautifully, obviously faster than normal. The rough is thicker. Seems like the fairways are a little more narrow, too. I think the superintendent, Brandon, has done an excellent job. Some of the pin locations are not member's pins, so I'm seeing more like the professional pins, which I kind of like.”