Henderson Hurries to the top at The ANNIKA
BELLEAIR, Fla. - A slow start off of No. 10 began to speed up quickly for Brooke Henderson after recording three-straight birdies from holes 12-14, putting herself in prime position to make a splash at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. Her round began to slow down as she made the turn finishing with three pars and a bogey heading onto the front. A faster start on the back helped get the ball rolling and the putts dropping for the winningest Canadian after she recorded two birdies in her first three holes. Beginning on the 5th hole, she would card three-straight birdies to propel her into a share of the lead on Thursday alongside three other players. With a long birdie putt on No. 9, Henderson finished her round and recorded the final birdie she needed to take the solo lead at 8-under and tying the 18-hole tournament scoring record, set first in 2021 by Leona Maguire during her first round.
“Yeah, today felt really great to be making a lot of birdie putts,” Henderson said about her opening round. “Nice to see the ball go in the hole. And especially on my back nine today, which is actually the front nine, made a lot of birdies coming in, and bonus to get the one on No. 9. It was a long one and definitely glad to hit the hole because it was cruising. No, it's fun. I feel like my game has been trending in the right direction for a while now, and nice to see a good day happen.”
Four players find themselves tied for second after opening day of play at Pelican Golf Club. Jin Young Ko and Patty Tavatanakit sat tied for 1st place after the morning wave of tee times until several players joined them in the afternoon. Ko fired off a bogey-free 63, tying her lowest opening round since 2021. She had two streaks of birdies today, recording just one par in between them. Ko birdied holes 7 through 9 before parring the 10th hole, and starting another streak from Nos. 11-13. Tavatanakit is one of three Thai players inside the top-10 also going bogey-free, recording three birdies in a row and setting a career-low opening round record of her own. Emily Kristine Pedersen shot up the leaderboard having recorded four-straight holes under par from Nos. 6-9 with three birdies and an eagle. A bogey on her final hole kept her out of a share for first with Henderson. Minami Katsu carded five birdies on the front to help situate herself in a position for a tie of first as well. Sitting at 7-under with two holes remaining, Katsu recorded two pars to keep her just shy of the top spot.
“I mean, I'm just going to keep trying to do the same thing,” Pedersen said about staying patient while towards the top. “There are so many good golfers out here. Every week it's such low scores. You need to have probably that 20-under as a target every single week, and that's still 12 more under for me to get to that. That is a long way, a lot of birdies. The course sets up to -- you have to be smart. I know there will be tougher pins on the weekend and can really be some sucker pins out here. I'm just trying to put that good swing on every single shot out there.”
Five players round out the top-10 all tied for sixth including Portland Classic winner Chanettee Wannasaen, 2022 LPGA Rookie Dewi Weber, 12-time LPGA Tour winner Ariya Jutanugarn, two-time ANNIKA runner-up Lexi Thompson and LPGA Mom Azahara Munoz. All three sponsor invites finished under par; Wake Forest graduate student Rachel Kuehn sits at 4-under, 2023 ANNIKA Intercollegiate champion Louise Rydqvist shot 68 and Epson Tour Player of the Year Gabriela Ruffels is at one-under par. Monday qualifier and Epson Tour Championship winner Austen Kim is one-under par headed into the second round, competing in her first LPGA Tour event since receiving her LPGA Tour card for the 2024 season.