Gaby Lopez leads at LPGA Tour’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions

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Nelly Korda tees off during the first round of the LPGA Tour’s 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on Thursday at the Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 20 (UPI) — Mexico’s Gaby Lopez jumped out to a one-shot lead Thursday in the LPGA Tour’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla.

Lopez made six birdies and ended the first day with a 5-under 67 in the LPGA Tour’s opening round to the new season. She led by one shot over a group of four players at 68 that included three major champions: world No. 1 Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang and U.S. Open champion Yuka Saso.

Ryann O’Toole, a 34-year-old American, joined Korda, Kang and Saso at 4-under 68.

“Today was a pretty clean round. I think we barely made any mistakes,” Lopez told reporters. “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.”

Lopez is a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, with her last victory coming at the 2020 Tournament of Champions. She outlasted Nasa Hataoka in a seven-hole playoff at that event.

This week’s event features a limited field of 29 former LPGA tournament winners from the past three seasons competing alongside 50 celebrities. Lopez, who started on Lake Nona’s back nine, teed off with former NFL star running back Marcus Allen and ex-MLB slugger Joe Carter.

“I’m comfortable out there, being able to talk just different topics other than golf and what you did in the holidays,” Lopez said. “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 and I really take advantage of that.”

Korda got off to a sluggish start with bogeys on two of her first four holes. She eventually settled down and birdied three straight holes starting at the par-4 fifth and moved to 4-under par when she carded an eagle on the 11th hole.

Michelle Wie West, who was competing for the first time since the Women’s PGA last summer, opened the tournament with a 1-under 71. She made five birdies, including a three-birdie stretch that began at the par-5 11th.

Meanwhile, Annika Sorenstam — a World Golf Hall of Famer — compiled 33 points in the Modified Stableford points format to pace the tournament’s celebrity field. Former MLB pitchers Mark Mulder and Derek Lowe, ex-NHL player Jeremy Roenick and Chad Pfeifer each finished with 32 points.

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