Nelly Korda gets first win since 2022, postpones Lydia Ko’s Hall of Fame entry

Nelly Korda celebrates after winning the Drive On Championship.

Nelly Korda won for the ninth time on the LPGA Tour Sunday.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The champagne and roses were already out to celebrate Lydia Ko.

Her second shot on the first playoff hole at the LPGA Drive on Championship settled just next to gifts ready to celebrate Ko entering the LPGA Hall of Fame.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

After a wild final three holes of regulation featuring an eagle and a tap-in birdie, Nelly Korda defeated Ko on the second playoff hole at Bradenton Country Club to win the Drive On Championship, her first win since November 2022. The hometown victory for Korda thwarts Ko’s chance at her 27th and clinching Hall of Fame Point.

“I think even when I was down [Brandeton fans] were so, so positive and keeping me in it,” said Korda, who was born and still lives in Bradenton. “It was such a grind out there, so back and forth. I felt like I never really got anything going. But, I mean, I just can’t even believe it right now.”

Despite holding a four-shot lead overnight for the now-nine-time LPGA winner, Korda said she didn’t even think she could win with two holes to play.

Through 15 holes, she had yet to make a birdie and had just doubled the par-3 15th, leaving herself in a tie with Megan Khang, and Ko who was in the group ahead.

Korda said there were “doubts and negative thoughts” in her head at the moment, but her caddie Jason McDede helped settle her down.

“When I made that double on hole 15 he just told me, ‘Hey, listen, you’re still tied for the lead. Let’s go. Come on,'” Korda said. “He was just— he pretty much told me to get my head out of my mmm, so… But I like that. I like when he tells me that I need to get my head out of my ass.”

Then Ko, last week’s Tournament of Champions winner, putting her on the brink of Hall of Fame induction, from over 200 yards on the par-5 17th, knocked her second to just a foot for a kick-in eagle. When Korda and Khang both bogeyed 16, Ko was suddenly up three shots, destined to make history as the first LPGA Hall of Fame qualifier since Inbee Park in 2016.

“I thought that the tournament was over going into 17,” Korda said. “I just kind of gave myself a chance. I knew that if I rolled that eagle in, I had to birdie the last hole.”

That’s exactly what she did. She hit the back of the green in two on 17 and drained the eagle putt to set up the must-birdie situation on 18.

After her drive found a bare patch of the fairway, Korda flighted what McDede called a “155 bullet” with a 7-iron that just carried just over the slope in the middle of the 18th green and rolled down to the back pin, settling inside one foot to set up the playoff.

“I floated it a tiny bit, and that’s why it came up a little bit short,” she said of the shot. “Sometimes you just need to get lucky, and I think that’s just the golf gods gave me a little present there.”

It was a playoff of two of the LPGA’s biggest stars who both failed to win on the Tour in 2023. Korda had a banner year in 2021, winning a major, the Olympic Gold medal, and three other victories in reaching the top of the Rolex Rankings for the first time in her career. Then over the past two years, she won just once while she dealt with health issues.

Ko, still just 26, meanwhile returned to the world’s top ranking in 2022 by winning three times, including the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. But she didn’t even qualify to defend her title last fall.

Her win a week ago at the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Orlando earned her 26th point for the LPGA Hall of Fame point, needing just one more for enshrinement.

Both players parred the first playoff hole, with Ko getting up and down after taking a drop from the grandstands left of the green.

On the second playoff hole, Korda hit it through the green, necessitating her own drop from the grandstand. She played her chip to about four feet and after Ko three-putted from the left edge of the green, Korda drained the par save to take the victory.

“Just wow,” Korda said. “Good ole Nelly-fashion, making it dramatic.”

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