Web Stories Saturday, February 24

Ayaka Furue of Japan birdied her final two holes for a bogey-free, 7-under-par 65 to take the first-round lead at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

Furue secured a two-shot edge over Sweden’s Maja Stark and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez (5-under 67) in the first event of the LPGA season. Ally Ewing and Danielle Kang are tied for fourth after shooting 4-under 68 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.

The field of 35 comprised of players who won on tour any time in the past two seasons includes Furue, 23, thanks to her title at the 2022 Women’s Scottish Open, which remains her only win on tour to date.

“I feel this course is really difficult,” Furue said, “and not only my shot but also my putt was really good today, so I think my putt was kind of excellent for me today.”

Lopez, 30, showed no signs of jetlag despite being married Dec. 16 and embarking on a three-week honeymoon with her husband.

“We closed it up in Punta Mita in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,” Lopez said. “That’s where I started training. That’s what I love to do. Every time we go back to Punta Mita to do just intense training, intense golf, and then just let it flow on the golf course.”

Lopez carded three bogeys, but balanced the blemishes out with eight birdies, including four straight to open her round on the back nine.

“Sometimes when you come with low expectations you kind of relax a little bit, and that’s always – for me the start of the year kind of comes to that,” said Lopez, who won this event in 2020.

Stark, 24, had six birdies and a single bogey on Thursday. The one-time LPGA Tour winner said her goals for the year include winning on U.S. soil and representing Sweden at the Olympic Games.

Rose Zhang, still just 20, is entering her first full season on the LPGA Tour after turning pro last summer and winning her first tournament as a pro. She recovered from back-to-back bogeys to post a 3-under 69 Thursday, tied with the likes of New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Canada’s Brooke Henderson and others for sixth.

“Really want to work on myself and how I carry myself on and off the golf course,” Zhang said. “You know, it’s just I think I became a little stagnant in my growth, and this year it’s more so just every single day, finding some purpose to do stuff and to fulfill all my competitiveness.”

Lilia Vu, who won two majors last season, and Nelly Korda are part of a tie at 1-under 71.

The event bypasses the traditional 36-hole cut due to the limited field.

-Field Level Media

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