Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions / Rd. 2 recap

By Jeff Rude

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Danielle Kang, ranked fifth in the world among female golfers, and two-time celebrity champion Mardy Fish maintained their leads Friday in the second round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America.

Kang, 28, a five-time LPGA winner, followed her opening 64 with a six-birdie 65 at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando. That moved her to 13-under-par 129 and two strokes ahead of world No. 4 Nelly Korda (66). Defending champion Gaby Lopez (68) and In Gee Chun (65) were four shots off the lead in the kickoff event of LPGA’s 71st season at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando.

Former tennis star Fish, Diamond Resorts champion in 2016 and ’18, shot a 1-under-par 70 worth 37 points in the Modified Stableford scoring system. His 78 total points put him five points ahead of New York Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks (34 points Friday) and former NFL kicker Josh Scobee (38) in the event for LPGA winners and celebrities from sports and entertainment.

“Like yesterday, I had a lot of fun out there and made some good birdies,” Kang, a student of renowned instructor Butch Harmon, said after hitting 15 greens in regulation.

Korda, 22, a three-time LPGA champion, missed only one fairway and one green in regulation en route to six birdies. Korda drove the short par-4 16th for the second day in a row.

Korda played with LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam, who retired after the 2008 season, and came away impressed.

“It was really cool, honestly,” Korda said. “She still has it. She has her touch around the greens. It was honestly surreal. (It shows) you can still compete at her age (50). Once you have it, you never lose it.”

Sister Jessica Korda, 28, a five-time LPGA winner, birdied six of eight holes (Nos. 7-14) but fell back with bogeys on the last three holes, including the short par-4 16th and the par-5 17th. Her 69 dropped her to 8-under, five off the lead.

Fish, runner-up last year, surged ahead among celebs despite consecutive bogeys on Nos. 13-15. But he birdied the drivable 16th after a long wait on the tee.

“It was tough to stop (while) on the bogey train,” Fish said. “It was nice to reset and … make birdie on that hole.”

Hall of Famer pitcher John Smoltz, the celebrity champion in 2019 and ’20, struggled with six bogeys against three birdies Friday. His 68 points put him in sixth place, 10 points behind Fish.

Scobee, 38, an NFL kicker from 2004-15, made an eagle and four birdies Friday in taking the early second-round celebrity lead with a 1-under-par score and 73 total points. Scobee tied the NFL record with three field goals of at least 50 yards in one game.

Count Scobee among athletes from other sports who can’t get enough of golf. “I play golf way too much,” the first-time Diamond Resorts TOC contestant said. “Probably three or four times a week. I mean, I love golf. It’s my obsession. Especially tournament golf.”

Inspirational amputee Chad Pfeifer had the best round among celebs, making five birdies and totaling 39 points Friday. Pfeifer, in fifth place, had his left leg amputated above the knee after his patrol vehicle hit an explosive device in 2007 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The long-hitting Hicks has drawn attention not just for his good golf but also for his caddie – girlfriend Cheyenne Woods, a longtime playing professional and niece of Tiger Woods. The two met last January when she interviewed Hicks on her golf podcast and began dating in the spring.

Former Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Smoltz, all Hall of Famers, mourned the “sad” loss of legendary Brave Hank Aaron, the home run king who died Friday at age 86.

“One of the great things about Hank, was you’d never know he was one of, if not the greatest baseball players of all-time,” Glavine said. “He never carried himself that way. He was very humble and came from very humble background, and I think always kept that with him. He was always very willing to talk with people, young players especially, and give whatever advice he could. That was a tribute to him and what he was about.”

“Just a special human being,” Maddux said.

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January 20-23, 2022