Jessica Korda just delivered the best imaginable start to the LPGA season
If you were building an ideal start to the LPGA season, it would look an awful lot like the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions did on Sunday.
Let’s start at the end, because every great golf tournament should have a dramatic finish. That’s exactly what happened when Jessica Korda poured in a 30-footer for birdie at the first playoff hole, punctuated by a top-tier fist pump. (That’s an important element, too. The best tournaments have celebrations to match.)
What else did Sunday’s finale have that should make other tournaments jealous? I’m glad you asked.
The Intriguing Cast of Characters
Check. Big-time check. Sunday’s final group put Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda and Jessica Korda in the same threesome. Over the past year, the former two have separated themselves as the top American stars in the game. Last summer, Kang won the LPGA’s first two events post-hiatus, while Nelly has racked up top-fives.
But Nelly’s older sister, Jessica, reminded us of her presence in the very first nine holes of 2021, shooting seven-under 30 to jump out to the Tournament of Champions lead. She bettered that nine on Saturday, when she shot nine-under 28 on the back nine to cap off a preposterous third round of 60. Then came Sunday.
“You guys finally get your wish,” Jessica told reporters, referring to the star-studded group. She was right.
In the final round, every hero should face an early challenge. On Sunday that came when Jessica made bogey at No. 3. Bogeys are never fun, but they’re particularly damaging when the golfer ahead of you on the leaderboard — in this case, Kang — had made exactly zero for the week up to that point. Korda’s bogey at 3 left her four shots back of the lead.
Spoiler alert: She wasn’t finished.
The Surprise Charge
Sundays should feature an unexpected challenger. Enter Nelly Korda, who was eight shots back standing on No. 7 tee and promptly reeled off a stretch of birdie-birdie-par-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie that suddenly changed the entire tournament. She capped off her final round with a birdie at 18 to post a seven-under 64, forcing her playing partners to get aggressive just to stay ahead.
Nelly may have been the only one who wasn’t impressed with the birdie barrage, playing it typically cool after her round.
“Yeah — I hit it solid, putted well, tried to get as close as I could to them, but I started really far back,” she said.
The Plot Twist
Despite the caliber of her challengers, Kang looked very much in control for much of the afternoon. She began the day with a two-shot lead. That two-shot lead became three when she birdied No. 1, and it stretched to four after Jessica’s early bogey. She made the turn still up three, but things started to get tighter when both Kordas birdied 13 to get within two.
Kang matched Jessica’s birdie at 14 with a 2 of her own. But then came the plot twist: She made bogey at 15. That wouldn’t normally be much of a shock, but Kang had played the first 68 holes of the tournament without a single blemish on her card. Suddenly, the game was on.
The Compelling Winner
Jessica Korda is still just 27 years old, but she’s been in the public eye for nearly half her lifetime, since she made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008 and 2009. Success followed on the LPGA Tour, too, to the tune of five victories. But with Nelly’s meteoric rise, Jessica suddenly got used to playing the dual role of fierce competitor and supportive older sister.
“I mean, I was winning up until she came out on tour,” Jessica said on Saturday with a laugh.
Nelly had won three times since Jessica’s most recent victory, which came in February 2018. Sunday, it was the elder Korda’s turn once again.
She’d hardly gone away, but now it’s official: Jessica Korda is back. The LPGA is back, too.