With so much on the line, Player of the Year contender Lydia Ko opens with a 65 to take early lead at CME

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko made bogey on the opening par 5 at Tiburon Golf Club to begin the CME Group Tour Championship, but that did nothing to foreshadow the rest of the day.

Ko, leader of the Rolex Player of the Year race and Vare Trophy, paces the field after an opening 7-under 65. The 25-year-old Kiwi holds the course record at Tiburon, 62, and won this tournament in 2014. She recorded eight birdies on the day and shot 31 on the back nine. This week’s winner earns a record-setting $2 million.

“The first four holes into the wind is a beast,” said Ko. “It’s a beast without the wind. So I knew that if I could just hang on and just stay patient, there was going to be a lot of opportunities, and I was able to grab a lot of them in the back nine. So definitely nice to finish off that way.”

An 18-time winner on the LPGA, Ko last won the LPGA Player of the Year in 2015. She leads Minjee Lee by one point in the POY race. Lee opened with a 71 and is tied for 23rd. Players must finish in the top 10 to earn points.

Nelly Korda, winner of last week’s Pelican Ladies Championship and current No. 1, made a 20-footer for bogey on the second hole that felt like a birdie. She opened with a 4-under 68 with two dropped shots, hitting all 14 fairways.

“It was kind of sporadically windy,” said Korda, “but then I guess once I got over a couple of my shots the winds died, so those were my like two really about mistakes.”

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Brooke Henderson withdrew from last week’s Pelican event with an injury to her upper back and said that she wasn’t even sure if she could tee it up this week. The Canadian lives part-time here in Naples and felt well enough on Thursday to shoot 68. Henderson, a two-time winner this year, said she made some adjustments to her swing to be able to play.

2022 LPGA CME Group Tour Championship
2022 LPGA CME Group Tour Championship

Brooke Henderson hits her second shot from the first fairway during the first round of the 2022 LPGA CME Group Tour Championship at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

Danielle Kang spent four days with Butch Harmon last week in Las Vegas and felt good about swing changes they’re making coming into the week, jotting notes down on her glove. Kang spent a month in South Korea with Inbee Park, where she tied for 10th at the BMW Ladies Championship.

Kang, who revealed over the summer that she has a tumor on her spine, lost in a playoff at Walmart NW Arkansas Championship to Atthaya Thitifkul and tied for third at the LPGA Mediheal, after returning to competition after a months-long break.

“I really wish at one point we can just get to a point where I don’t want to be associated with so much health things as I’m here, I’m standing in front of you guys, I’m playing golf,” said Kang.

“Body and being physically in the top best shape is something we’re always going to be thinking about as athletes. So the way I warm up, the way I have to approach certain type of things, is — there has been obstacles that’s been set in front of me, but that’s kind of part of life, right? Nothing is going to be fluid.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek