Fri, December 03, 2021


Kang still at the top at Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions

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Another day, another bogey-free round for Danielle Kang.


The four-time LPGA Tour winner shot a 6-under 65 in Friday’s second round and built a two-stroke lead over Nelly Korda at the 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America. Kang, who won twice in 2020 and led the Tour in scoring average, birdied the opening par-4 first to set the tone for her second round. It was her second consecutive bogey-free round, and she is the only player in the LPGA Tour field yet to card a bogey.


“Like yesterday, I had a lot of fun out there today and made some good birdies,” said Kang, who played alongside MLB Hall of Famer John Smoltz and Grammy Award nominee Cole Swindell. “This golf course is kind of sneaky tough at the same time, so I just can't lose focus on certain shots. Three-putts are out there, too, which is scary. But I'm having a lot of fun.”


Korda returned to her old coach David Whelan following the 2020 CME Group Tour Championship and feels very “dialed in” with her ball striking. That hard work clearly showed in her stats, with the 22-year-old Floridian missing just one fairway and one green in her second-round 5-under 66. Korda is looking for her first win since the 2019 Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA and her first victory on home soil.


“I was striking the ball really well today and I gave myself a lot of chances, and I converted a couple here and there. I made one kind of stupid bogey, a three-putt,” said Korda, who has won twice in Chinese Taipei and once in Australia. “Other than that, I hit it really solid.”


Defending champion Gaby Lopez and two-time major champion In Gee Chun are tied for third at -9, with Korda’s older sister Jessica Korda rounding out the top five at -8.


In the celebrity competition, former tennis player Mardy Fish leads the field at +78, followed by New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks and retired Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee at +73. Two-time defending celebrity champion John Smoltz heads into the weekend in sixth at +68. The celebrity competition is played under a Modified Stableford scoring system.



Cheyenne Knight nearly had the best birthday wish any golfer could ask for on Friday, coming up 1 foot short of an ace at the par-3 third hole at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club. Instead, the newly minted 24-year-old settled for a 5-under 66, tied for her career-low round on Tour, and jumped to solo sixth heading into the weekend at the 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.


“It was an early wake up. I woke up at 5 and my mom is so sweet, she kind of decorated the room for me,” said Knight, who finished 20th here in 2020. “This is my first time I've ever gotten to play on my birthday, so it was definitely fun and my group was a lot of fun today."


Starting her day on No. 10, Knight, the 2019 Volunteers of America Classic winner, caught fire on the front nine. She opened with three straight birdies and added in two more at 4 and 5 to finish with the fifth 66 of her career.


“I think it was kind of a benefit I was first off the back. Well, not technically first off, but I was at 8:00. I was the first girl off the back, LPGA player,” said Knight. “So definitely the wind and the pin positions were tricky today, just getting close to them, because you either get close or you're kind of off the greens, missing the greens. There are birdie opportunities out there, so it's really important to kind of get those.”



In her third #DiamondLPGA at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando, Rolex Ranking No. 5 Danielle Kang is sticking to her game plan of having fun, but still finding time to grind. She’s still got to work on sinking more of those pesky putts.


“Short game is something that I've been really focusing on, and iron game,” said Kang, winner of the 2020 Vare Trophy for having the season’s low scoring average. “This golf course, you have to put it in specific spots. I'm just trying to play smart. I’ve been here for three years now. I think I know where to capitalize and don't. I just got to stay extra focused.”


As any good athlete knows, there is always something to improve. Lately, Kang has been focusing on her putting – specifically how she feels over putts. With just 54 putts over the past two days, Kang would love to keep that number as low as possible.


“Not quite there yet. Obviously, a work in progress,” said Kang of the state of her game. “This is the first step to what I want to accomplish. I'm just sticking to my routine and thought process. Like people say, golf is a game between your ears and thoughts that go through my mind.”


With the field re-pairing after every round, Kang always likes the surprise of seeing which celebrities she will get to play with the next day. One golf legend who Kang would be honored to play with is 72-time LPGA Tour winner Annika Sorenstam, who mentioned texting with Kang about her game and preparing for this week’s event.


“It would be incredible to play with her. I would be really nervous if I played with her right now,” said Kang, who has five LPGA Tour victories under her belt. “It’s actually kind of my dream to play with her at least once., we do text back and forth. Her advice has gotten me pretty far. She’s helped me with putting, chipping, wedges. Coming from Annika it really helped.”



She’s here as a celebrity, playing with zero expectations and an obvious layer of rust. But some things are like riding a bike.


When Annika Sorenstam stepped onto the tee Friday at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and was announced as “retired LPGA player and 10-time major champion,” the old habits clicked in – two waves and a smile to the smattering of fans socially distanced around the first tee, followed by a practice swing and the same setup and waggle that dominated the women’s game like no one since Mickey Wright.


The competitor in her won’t let her mail it in. Even with her husband, Mike McGee, carrying a Callaway stand-bag, even with the shots that used to go so straight you could use them as radar vectors now falling ever so slightly to the right – the post-50 fade – Sorenstam has still played her way into the top-10 of the celebrity division in this tournament-within-a-tournament.


But that’s not what excited her on Friday. For the first time, Annika played with today’s top American player, Nelly Korda, who shot a six-birdie 66 and enters the weekend two shots out of the lead held by Danielle Kang.


“She played fabulous,” Annika said of Nelly. “She drove it beautifully today. Hit a lot of good iron shots. I actually felt like she probably could have been a few shots better. That’s how good she played.”

Published : January 22, 2021