Nelly Korda wins the 2021 Pelican Women’s Championship – solidifies claim to World No. 1 Ranking
American Nelly Korda overcame a triple bogey on the 17th hole, a 340-yard par-4, enroute to her fourth win of the season. Making the turn with a 33 (-2 under), Korda looked as if it would become a showdown with Lexi Thompson, for the Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair, Florida. Stumbles by the leaders though led to a four way tie for first place and a playoff, making Sunday one of the most memorable finishes on the LPGA this season.
The drama started on the 17th as Korda and Thompson took the tee box as joint leaders at -19 under. From the fairway, Nelly Korda hit a poor second shot, landing left and bouncing down the slope leaving her with a difficult shot to get back on the green. With the bunker between her and the flag, Korda struck her lob shot thin, striking the lip of the bunker, before coming to rest at the bottom. Her sand shot was very good though, leaving her with the opportunity to one-putt to salvage a bogey. What came next are what golfer’s nightmares are about.
Korda’s first putt was poorly struck, missing the hole on the right side. She had a short 3-foot putt to finish with a double bogey – 6. Whether it be a lapse in concentration or something else we may not ever know, but Korda’s second putt lipped out, as fans exasperated in shock and disbelief. She tapped in for a triple bogey-7. She dropped 3-strokes on one hole.
Unfortunately for Lexi Thompson, she could not capitalize to the extent that she should have, herself dropping a shot with a bogey-5. The upside for Thompson though was being in the driver’s seat heading to the 18th tee box, needing to only par the hole for the win.
Earlier in the round, Lydia Ko posted a score of 66, taking her into the clubhouse at -17 under. Defending champion Sei Young Kim birdied the 18th as her swooping putt climbed up the slope and then curled right for about 4 or 5 feet before finding the bottom of the hole. Kim’s sore of 67 and -17 under had her joining Ko as the clubhouse leaders.
The stage was set for Thompson, needing only to complete the par-4, 18th hole in regulation for the win. Unfortunately, her approach shot landed on the left edge of the green and as it rolled up the slope, it trickled left and off the green, leaving Thompson with a delicate chip or a putt from just off the green.
Meanwhile, Korda’s approach shot was well struck, carrying the pond guarding the green, landing and releasing a few yards towards the flag. Korda was in birdie range from approximately 20 feet. Thompson elected to putt her 3rd shot, expertly judging the line up and over the slope, allowing it to trickle down the hill towards the flag. Thompson had a short putt of approximately 4-5 feet for par and victory. Having putted exceptionally well all week, it looked like a routine putt for Thompson.
Standing over the ball, Thompson drew her putter back slightly, stroking the ball hesitantly towards the hole with enough pace. However, the line was a little too far to the right as the ball slid by, leaving a short tap-in for bogey. Thompson failed to capitalize on the opportunity to win outright in a manner reminiscent of Olympic Club and her crash at the US Women’s Open earlier this year.
Playing before Thompson, Korda managed to shake off any lingering effects of her three-putt on the previous hole, regathering her composure, before sinking her putt for birdie and a share of first. She would join clubhouse leaders Lydia Ko, and Sei Young Kim at -17 under.
The playoff began on the 18th hole, with Sei Young Kim playing first followed by Thompson, Korda, and then Lydia Ko. Kim’s tee shot found the left side fairway bunker, while Korda, Thompson, and Ko’s tee shots landed in the fairway with good lies. On their approaches, both Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim’s shots landed on the green, but they couldn’t hold the green; Kim’s ball bounding left and Ko’s trickling off the back left edge. Meanwhile it was a case of deja-vu for both Korda and Thompson as their approach shots landed in nearly identical spots from the 72nd hole. They would have virtually the same putts.
Korda would sink her putt for birdie, eliminating both Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim. Only Lexi Thompson could force the playoff to another hole. Determined not to miss the putt to the right as she had previously, Thompson drew the putter back, stroked the ball firmly, taking a line for the left edge of the cup. Unfortunately, Thompson’s putt was too firm, pacing the ball through the break, handing victory to Nelly Korda.
It may not have been stellar golf, but it was remarkable for Korda’s ability to shake off the negative experience from the 17th green to sink two more clutch putts.
“It was like, Okay, I need to get off this hole (17th). I told Jason (caddie), ‘Thank God we're not playing 17 in the playoff.’ I just tried to shake it off. I was pretty upset. There was definitely some R rated words going through my head and probably out of my mouth. Nice thing about Jason is I can kind of vent to him, and he takes it. It's not directed at him. It's just I can vent and get it all out, and then I can focus up. He tells me positive thoughts now that everything is out in the air and go after it.”
As for Lexi Thompson, it proved to be another disappointing finish. Like the 2021 US Women’s Open, Thompson had the opportunity to close out a victory, only to be primarily undone by her putting. Regardless of the difficult circumstances in which she lost, Lexi proved once again how to handle defeat with grace.
“An amazing week. Played solid golf. So many players played amazing golf, Nelly as well, obviously. The sponsors do such a great job, and the hospitality is like no other. The amount of fans that we got was truly amazing. So, it was a great week. Played a lot of good golf, made a lot of good putts, and just wasn’t meant for me in the end.”
The win was Korda’s fourth of the year, tying her with Jin Young Ko for the most wins this season on the LPGA. Korda also solidified her slight lead in the Rolex World Rankings as the World No.1 over Jin Young Ko. Additionally, the points collected with the win meant that Korda jumped over Jin Young Ko for the lead in the LPGA Player of the Year honours with 191 points to Ko’s 181. Heading into the final event of the season at the CME Championship, the winner of the CME Championship will collect 30 points, with second collecting 12 points.
As has happened so much over this season on the LPGA, there will be much to play for and should produce for even more riveting viewing.