Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions / Rd. 3 recap

By Jeff Rude

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. –You want high-wire acts, go to the circus. You want wire-to-wire acts in the works, check out Danielle Kang and Mardy Fish at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America.

Kang, ranked fifth in the world among women golfers, and perennial celebrity golf contender Fish have led their respective divisions after each of the three rounds of the annual event for LPGA winners and celebrities from sports and entertainment.

Kang, 28, a five-time LPGA winner, followed her opening 64-65 with an eight-birdie 63 in rain-softened conditions in Saturday’s third round at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando. At 21-under-par 192, she is two strokes ahead of Jessica Korda (60) and six up over Korda’s younger sister Nelly (67) in the kickoff event of the LPGA’s 71st season.

Remarkably, Kang has made no bogeys over 54 holes. She saved par from 15 feet on the par-5 17th after hitting a fat 5-wood second shot short into water.

“I’m playing pretty mellow,” said Kang, whose boyfriend Maverick McNealy plays on the PGA Tour. “I’m trusting my game.”

Former tennis star Fish, Diamond Resorts celebrity champion in 2016 and ’18 and runner-up last year, made six birdies against two bogeys Saturday and scored 40 points in the Modified Stableford scoring system. His 118 total put him seven points ahead of New York Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks and former NFL kicker Josh Scobee (each of whom scored 38 Saturday).

Jessica Korda, 28, a five-time LPGA winner, surged up the leaderboard with an 9-under 28 on the back nine, highlighted by an eagle and seven birdies. She holed an 18-footer for eagle at the par-5 17th after a 4-iron approach and a 9-foot birdie putt on the long par-3 18th for only the fifth 60 in LPGA history. Only 72-time winner Annika Sorenstam’s 59 is better.

Korda hit 17 greens in regulation and took 25 putts.

“I mean, it was awesome,” said Korda, who shot 30 on the back nine in the first round. “Just on the back nine I don’t know what happened. I just turned it up. I had a lot of great looks and we were just really relaxed all day.”

Asked what was most memorable about the 60, she said, “Everything. It was really incredible. I hit some really good shots. I didn’t have too many long putts. So definitely ball striking obviously helped.”

Nelly Korda, 22, whose three LPGA victories have come outside the United States, birdied six of the first 13 holes Saturday but fell back with a three-putt bogey at 15 that included a missed 2-footer. She had trouble hitting fairways and greens on the back nine Saturday.

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 is a rising professional tennis star.

“Incredible,” Fish said of the Korda family this week. “They say tennis players are the best athletes in the world, don’t they?” (Laughs.)

Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, the celebrity champion in 2019 and ’20, is tied for sixth, 15 points off the lead, after 35 points for 103 total.

“My game is terrible,” Smoltz said. “I’m fighting my swing. … I’ve got like nine different swings today.”

Mark Mulder, the 2-time Diamond Resorts champion and three-time winner of the American Century celebrity event, scored the most points among celebrities Saturday (41) thanks to six birdies on the first 11 holes. But his 102 points put him in a tie for eighth, 16 points off the lead.

Inspirational amputee Chad Pfeifer scored 38 points Saturday and is fourth among celebs with 103 points. Pfeifer 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.

Scobee, 38, kicked in the NFL from 2004-15, tying the league record with three field goals of at least 50 yards in one game.

“Golf is my obsession,” he said.

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January 20-23, 2022