A year after winning in pro debut, Rose Zhang takes Founders Cup lead with career-best 9-under 63.

Updated May. 9, 2024 8:07 p.m. ET

CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — When two-time NCAA champion Rose Zhang came out of Stanford and became the first woman to win her professional debut since 1951, the sky was suddenly the limit.

Everyone expected Zhang to win again and again and again, much like Nelly Korda has been doing these days with her five-event streak.

Something unexpected happened. After winning the Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City, New Jersey, last year, Zhang hasn't won again. She played well last year, posting four top- 10 finishes and earning $1.39 million in 13 events, missing only one cut. The Ws just haven't been there.

Back in New Jersey this week, the 20-year-old tied the tournament record with a 9-under 63 to take a two-stroke lead over Madelene Sagstrom in the Cognizant Founders Cup at the Uppper Montclair Country Club. Korda was six shots back.


The bogey-free round featured nine birdies, including one on the No. 18 hole of the event that honors the 13 founding members of the LPGA.

“It’s been a really interesting journey for me,” Zhang said. "I think the first couple months that I was out here it was very adrenaline based where I was just living the life and kind of going out, having a lot of fun, no expectations, just learning and taking everything in.

After the rush wore off, fatigue settled in and Zhang found it difficult to get back on track. This season was complicated because after playing in the season opener, she took took months off to finish her degree. She has played in six events overall, missing two cuts. Her best finish was a tie for fifth in the Match Play event.

“I just want to reiterate, it’s so hard winning out here on tour,” Zhang said. “What Nelly is he is doing is something quite unheard of, and only two other players have done it before. It’s the best players in the world, and sometimes I have to remind myself of that. Just because I was winning a lot in college and in this game, you lose more than you win.”

Zhang said it felt like she was on auto pilot at Upper Montclair, a layout she played the front nine on Tuesday and the back nine on Wednesday. That's her only experience with the layout.

“I do think this golf course is very suiting for the eye, and if you’re able to hit good shots and be in the right places, you’ll be able to play well out here,” Zhang said.

If Zhang does, Korda's record-tying winning streak will come to an end.

This round boosted Zhang's confidence.

“It’s pretty big actually, just because I know that the number’s out there for me, and if I’m able to get dialed in and do what I need to prior to playing an event, and also even just during the event, at least the number’s out there and I can kind of let free a little bit more to play my own game,” she said.


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