Sunday’s final half hour of the Pelican Women’s Championship, the second-to-last event on the 2021 LPGA schedule, had the potential to be heart-breaking for Nelly Korda in her quest to close out the season as the tour’s top player. But in the end, the 23-year-old World No. 1 came away a fortunate playoff winner who controls her own destiny in the race for Rolex Player of the Year.
With two holes left at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Fla., Korda was tied with Lexi Thompson at 19 under. But on the short par-4 17th, Korda missed her drive left and then inexplicable stumbled on her way to the hole. On the green, she found herself staring at a two-footer for double, a two-footer that she missed.
Yet Thompson missed a short par putt herself, and repeated the error on the 18th, her putter failing her down the stretch. Meanwhile, Korda regrouped and made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th, setting up a four-way playoff at 17 under with Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim joining the group.
The four major champions went back down the 18th hole. Ko and Kim made par, while Korda faced a similar birdie putt to the one she made in regulation—and proceeded to hole it again, fist pumping as she walked to get it out of the hole. Thompson had a six-footer for birdie to continue the playoff, the same distance that gave her trouble at 17 and 18 in regulation. This one, too, missed.
By claiming her fourth title of the 2021 season Korda pulled ahead of Jin Young Ko in the official POY standings. Players receive points for each top-10 finish throughout the year, the player with the most points winning the top honor. Ko was leading 176-161 going into this event, but Korda’s 30 points for the win put her out front 191-181 with one event left in the season: CME Group Tour Championship.
“I didn’t really expect much going into this week,” said Korda, who shot a one-under 69 on Sunday after rounds of 65-66-63. “I guess that should be my attitude every week, and just kind of have fun out there. I tried to take the demeanor of like if I missed a putt, which there were a lot this week, just to kind of shake it off and see if I can do it the next hole. So I just tried to keep it really light and easy because I hadn’t played in a while, and there was expectations, a lot of talk.”
Ko and Korda are the only players to win four times on tour in 2021, though one of Korda’s victories was a major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Korda can also boast a fifth win in 2021 at the Olympics, but that event does not count official toward the POY race.
Though Korda has every right to be confident heading to the CME in Naples, Fla., there is one more wrinkle to consider: Ko is the defending at Tiburon Golf Club. It sets up an exciting finale for the LPGA, with the top 60 players in the field playing for a $1.5 million first prize.
As for the POY showdown, as Korda proved coming back from a triple at 17, anything can happen. The key for both likely will be to keeping their cool as the pressure mounts.
“I honestly lost hope,” Korda said about her mental state after 17. “But my caddie really kept me in my head, in the moment, and I didn’t give up. Thank God I didn’t.”