By Jeff Rude
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – One winner clinched late, the other early. Jessica Korda prevailed by playoff and Mardy Fish by landslide Sunday in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America.
Korda shot 24-under-par 65-69-60-66–260 and then beat Danielle Kang, the leader after each of the first three rounds, on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at the 6,407-yard Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando course. Korda sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the extra hole, the 185-yard 18th, before Kang missed from 18 feet in the kickoff event of the LPGA’s 71st season.
On a sunny day with temperatures in the high 70s, former top-ranked American tennis player Fish again proved he’s difficult to catch in the realm of celebrity golf. The Diamond Resorts celebrity champion in 2016 and ’18 and runner-up last year, Fish made eight birdies Sunday and scored 41 points in the Modified Stableford scoring system. His 158 total put him 11 points ahead of inspirational amputee Chad Pfeifer (39 points Sunday) and 13 up on past champion Mark Mulder (43) in the annual event for LPGA winners and celebrities from sports and entertainment.
Americans occupied seven of the top eight places in LPGA scoring. The top three in Rolex world rankings, all from South Korea, chose not to play.
“I love that pressure,” said Korda, 28, a six-time LPGA winner who has battled injuries and undergone jaw surgery during her decade on tour. “From last year to this year I’ve learned to embrace the relaxedness of this event. Last year I was really struggling to like find the mindset how to play this tournament. This year it felt like I was kind of playing at home with the guys. It was really relaxed.”
Also, in her words, crazy.
“Crazy two days,” the winner said. “Shooting 60 yesterday, getting myself back into contention after bogeying three holes in a row to finish my second round. Crazy week.”
Korda’s younger sister Nelly, fourth in the Rolex world ranking, closed with a bogey-free 64 and finished two strokes back while playing in the final threesome with the two playoff contestants. Nelly, 22, whose three LPGA victories have come outside the United States, birdied six of seven holes on Nos. 7-13 before a missed 3-footer for birdie at 16 cost her.
Kang, 28, a five-time LPGA winner and fifth in the world, shot 64-65-63-68–260. She led by four strokes early in Sunday’s round and made no bogeys through 68 holes until three-putting the 419-yard 15th hole, missing a 7-footer. That dropped her lead to one stroke over Jessica Korda.
Kang fell back into a tie on the 306-yard 16th, where she drove far right into trees en route to par while Jessica Korda made a 3-footer for birdie. Both leaders made two-putt birdies at the par-5 17th, Kang converting from 7 feet. Kang forced the playoff with a 6-foot par save at 18.
“When you have to execute and bank on the fact that you’ve worked on it, I couldn’t bank on that today,” said Kang, a Butch Harmon student who won twice and led in low-stroke average on the 2020 LPGA tour. “That’s what I’m a little bit disappointed in myself with. There were shots that I should have been able to execute, but under pressure, if you didn’t put the time in it just isn’t going to execute. … I really didn’t have a high today. I hit one good shot that I really liked was on 12. I mean, that was my first solid shot.”
The Kordas are part of one of the most successful families in sports history. Their father Petr won the Australian Open and rose to No. 2 in the world in tennis. Their mother Regina played Olympic tennis. Their younger brother Sebastian, 20, is a rising professional tennis star.
Fish shot 14-under-par 66-70-68-66–269 by measure of stroke play and said he “hit the ball great all week.” He’s on a roll in celebrity events, having won the 2020 American Century tournament in Lake Tahoe.
“Sometimes I feel like maybe I play better when I don’t play as much. I don’t have as much in my head to think about,” said Fish, who played tennis right-handed but plays golf left-handed, which is a similar motion to his tennis backhand. The current U.S. Davis Cup captain won the tennis silver medal at the 2004 Olympics.
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, the celebrity champion in 2019 and ’20, finished 20 points off the lead in seventh place.
The legendary Sorenstam, 50, a 72-time LPGA winner who retired after the 2008 season, finished ninth in the celebrity division, 24 points off the lead.
Pfeifer birdied four of the last eight holes in finishing second. He had his left leg amputated above the knee after his patrol vehicle hit an explosive device in 2007 during Operation Iraqi Freedom
Mulder, the 2017 Diamond Resorts champion, made two eagles on the last six holes Sunday. The former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher had the most points for the second day in a row, scoring 43 Sunday.
The modified Stableford scoring format awards 10 points for double eagle, eight points for a hole-in-one, five for eagle, three for birdie, two for par, one for bogey and no points for double bogey and higher.
In The Winner’s Circle with Jessica Korda
- Hometown/Resides: Bradenton, Fla./Bradenton, Fla.
- Birthdate: Feb. 27, 1993; currently 27 years, 11 months, 24 days
- Qualified for LPGA Tour: Finished runner-up at the 2010 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, where she earned
- Priority List Category 11 status for the 2011 season
- Turned Professional/Rookie Year: 2010/2011
- LPGA: Sixth career victory
- PREVIOUS LPGA WINS: 2015 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; 2014 Airbus LPGA Classic presented by JTBC; 2014 Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; 2012 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand
RACE TO THE CME GLOBE
- With her win, Korda earns 500 points and will be first in the 2021 Race to the CME Globe
- With her win, Korda earns $180,000; she has earned $5,972,920 for her career
PREVIOUS DIAMOND RESORTS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS RESULT
- 2020 – T15
2020 LPGA TOUR PERFORMANCE
- 13 events, 11 cuts made, $246,578, two top-10 finishes
- This is the fourth time Korda won in her season debut, joining the 2012 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, the 2014 Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand
- Her third-round 60 is the lowest round of her LPGA Tour career; her previous best was a 62 in the second round of the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand
- She returned the fifth round of 60 in LPGA Tour history and first since Paula Creamer in the first round of the 2008 Marathon LPGA Classic; Annika Sorenstam’s 59 at the 2001 Standard Register PING is the only lower round in LPGA Tour history
- Her 194 is the lowest 54-hole score of her LPGA Tour career; her previous best was a 196 at the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand
- A two-time U.S. Solheim Cup Team member (2013, 2019) with a 4-2-2 overall record
- Member of Team USA at the 2018 UL International Crown, posting a 2-2-0 record
- 2018 Heather Farr Perseverance Award winner for her comeback from major jaw surgery
- With sister Nelly, is one of three sister duos to both win on the LPGA Tour, along with the Jutanugarns and the Sorenstams
- Her parents, Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtová, were international tennis stars, with her father winning the Australian Open and her mother representing the former Czechoslovakia at the 1988 Summer Olympics
- Her younger brother, Sebastian Korda, is 103rd in the ATP Tennis rankings and reached the fourth round at the 2020 French Open major tennis tournament