Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Korda beats Kang in play-off to win 2021 Diamond LPGA

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American Jessica Korda drained a 25-foot birdie on the first sudden-death playoff hole to defeat Danielle Kang and win the 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Korda shattered the tournament scoring record with a four-day total of 24-under 260, besting the previous mark of 14-under 270 set by Eun Hee Ji in 2019.

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The win also came the day after Korda shot the fifth 60 in LPGA Tour history.

“I didn't have great numbers all day. I was in between shots all day. It was just frustrating because I wanted to be aggressive, but then I wasn't,” said Korda, who shot 66 on Sunday. “And then kind of just said, You know what? Forget about it. Just stick to your process and be aggressive when you can and take those opportunities.

But having those putts roll in definitely helped.”

After starting the day two strokes behind Kang, Korda’s birdie at the par-3 16th pulled the pair into a tie at the top. The duo swapped birdies at No. 17 and both players left their birdie putts short on the par-3 18th.

Going back to the 18th tee for the playoff, Korda and Kang both hit the center of the green. Korda hit first and punctuated the long birdie putt with an emphatic fist pump reminiscent of a classic Tiger Woods moment. Kang’s birdie attempt tracked left from the moment she hit the putt, giving Korda her sixth LPGA Tour victory and fourth in her season-opening event.

“Everyone says low expectations, but I always expect, I don't show up to a tournament just to show up,” said Korda, who earned her first victory with her parents, retired tennis stars Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtová, in the gallery. “I'm too old for that. This is my 11th year. I know I've won a lot first week out.”

Korda again displayed her absolute mastery of the second nine at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando, carding Sunday birdies at 13, 14, 16 and 17 for a four-day total of -22 over the closing nine holes. But when asked what it was about those nine holes that suits her, Korda could not come up with an answer.

“Honestly, I have no idea. I wouldn't be able to tell you other than I hit it close and dropped some putts,” she said.

Korda’s younger sister Nelly Korda shot Sunday’s low round of 7-under 64 and finished third at -22. Defending DRTOC champion Gaby Lopez tied for 11th at -11.

In the celebrity competition, former tennis player Mardy Fish ran away with the tournament, earning an 11-stroke victory at +158. Wounded Warrior Chad Pfeifer was second at +147, while two-time MLB All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder was third at +145.

“Super happy with the way I played. I don't know what I won by, but it was tough to sort of follow along. It was nice,” said Fish, who could have the Kordas younger brother Sebastian Korda, an up-and-coming tennis pro, on his Davis Cup team. “Just sort of kept going along today and playing our balls instead of theirs and worrying about where they are and stuff. Just trying to get it in as quick as possible and see where we were on the back nine.”

Two-time defending celebrity champion John Smoltz finished seventh at +138 and 72-time LPGA Tour winner Annika Sorenstam was ninth at +134. The celebrity competition is played under a Modified Stableford scoring system.

DANIELLE KANG LEARNS FROM A TOUGH TOURNAMENT END

After battling two brushes with the COVID-19 virus over the holidays, Danielle Kang came to Central Forida knowing that her game was not exactly where she wanted it. Early tournament success seemed to have her heading toward an unexpected win, after setting the tournament’s 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records. However, on Sunday, she just never seemed to find the same groove that she’d enjoyed all week. Kang carded her first bogey of the tournament on Sunday’s 15th hole and her 3-under 68, while certainly a good round in most regards, was just not quite enough to stay ahead of a surging Jessica Korda.

But for the player who focuses on the mental just as much as the physical, there are always moments of learning to take from even the hardest moments.

“I'm not disappointed in that I didn't win. It's not about winning and losing for me. It's about being able to execute when I want to and having a feeling when I feel like I can't do something is something I don't like,” said Kang, who quickly called her family and her coach Butch Harmon for a pep talk before the playoff. “But I already knew coming in that I wasn't really prepared, and so I played great. I had a lot of fun. I got quite a bit of friends playing in it and they came out and watched and I love that, so I take a lot of positives from this week as well. But it's something to build on and work on and get back at it.”

NELLY KORDA WON EITHER WAY WITH BIG SISTER’S WIN

After a roller coaster of a final round at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando, the Korda sisters each found themselves with something to smile about. For older sister Jessica, it was a sixth LPGA Tour victory to share with the family. For 22-year-old Nelly, it was returning Sunday’s lowest round with a 7-under 64 and getting a confirmation that her game is still strong.

“I hit it solid, putted well, tried to get as close as I could to them, but I started really far back,” said Korda of how she thought she played. “But I gave it a good chance and I'm happy that Jess played well and she's in a playoff. So hopefully keep my fingers crossed for her.”

Growing up in Florida, the Korda sisters did not necessarily get to play a lot of amateur golf together given their five-year age difference. But now, years later, they’re keeping the competition going with both sisters dominating on the LPGA Tour. Though five years apart in age, they are best friends and even bigger supporters, which was evident during Sunday’s final round.

“It's pretty cool. She's been playing well. She made some really good putts today coming in, so she deserves it,” said Nelly, moments before Jessica clinched the win. “Hopefully comes out in her favor.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR AT DIAMOND RESORTS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS

In her sixth career win, Jessica Korda finally cried. But the emotions had nothing to do with how she won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions – a final-round 66 to reach 24-under and a 25-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole to beat third-round leader Danielle Kang. Nor did the tears have anything to do with the grit she showed all week, bouncing back from a lackluster Friday round with a 16-under par weekend.

Jessica’s eyes only welled when asked what kept her motivated through the downtimes, which, in the last few years, have included a crippling hand and wrist injury and major jaw surgery to relieve migraines.

“My family,” Korda said without hesitation, her lower lip beginning to tremble. “They're always there to pick me up when I'm down. Let me tell you, I've been down. My family is everything. They're my biggest support system. They believe in me more than I believe in myself.”

Published : January 24, 2021