As the sun slid behind the clouds and temperatures turned frigid at Bradenton Country Club, it was hometown hero Nelly Korda who kept the crowds lingering around the 18th green, waiting to watch their beloved daughter capture her ninth LPGA Tour title in a thrilling two-hole playoff over Lydia Ko.
And while the extra holes were exhilarating, even more so was how Korda and Ko got there in the first place.
Korda began the day with a four-stroke lead at 13-under, sitting ahead of Ko, Ayaka Furue and Megan Khang who were tied for second at 9-under. Khang birdied on the par-4 1st hole to get to 10-under and three back early, while Ko made a double on the par-4 3rd hole to drop back to 7-under, ultimately recovering with two birdies to get back to 9-under at the turn.
Meanwhile, Korda dropped a shot with a bogey on the par-4 5th hole to slide back to 12-under, and Khang capitalized, making two birdies on holes 6 and 7 to tie Korda, but wound up one shot back of the lead with nine holes to play after making bogey on No. 9.
With Korda leading at 12-under and Khang one back at 11-under, Ko finally rejoined the conversation, making back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 to get to 11-under and sit one behind Korda alongside Khang. Ko bogeyed 13 to drop out of the running once again, but both Khang and Korda bogeyed the 14th, leaving Korda with a one-shot lead with four holes to go.
While Ko and Khang bogeyed 15 to sit in a tie at 9-under, Korda hit her tee shot in the water on the par 3, recording a double bogey to make it a three-way tie at the top with three holes to play.
Ko pulled off a miracle on the par-5 17th hole, making an eagle to move two shots ahead with one hole to go and ultimately posting the clubhouse lead at 11-under. Khang and Korda once again matched bogeys on 16 to drop back to 8-under, now three strokes behind with two to play. While Khang couldn’t find any magic late, Korda matched Ko’s eagle on 17 and then hit her approach shot to inches on the par-4 18th hole, tapping in for birdie to finish at 11-under overall and force a playoff with Ko.
The first playoff hole saw Ko get up and down from the left side of the green for par and Korda two-putt for a par of her own, sending the pair back to the 18th tee for another playoff hole. Hitting first, Ko handily found the green while Korda’s approach ran over, giving the advantage to the 20-time LPGA Tour winner.
Korda chipped her third shot to within four feet, and when Ko left her birdie putt short, lipping out her resulting par try and tapping in for bogey, it was ultimately Korda’s to win.
When her par putt hit the back of the cup, a jubilant roar went up from the crowd at Bradenton Country Club, celebrating the ninth career victory of their hometown hero Korda who, despite all of the challenges late in the round, collected her first victory on the LPGA Tour since winning the 2022 ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.
“Definitely not a boring day. The amount of support I received this week was unbelievable,” said Korda, who ultimately recorded a 2-over 73 in the final round. “I’m so grateful for it and so surprised with how many people came out and watched. They kept me in it. I didn’t think I even had a chance, and then obviously making the eagle on 17, I knew that I needed a birdie on 18 to even have a chance to get into a playoff. Good ole Nelly fashion making it dramatic.”
With the victory, Korda becomes the 43rd different American to earn nine or more wins on the LPGA Tour, and she crosses the $9 million mark in career earnings on the LPGA Tour with $9,223,989 total. The win is her sixth victory in the United States, and Korda is the first wire-to-wire winner with ties on the LPGA Tour since Ko won the 2022 CME Group Tour Championship. She is also the second consecutive player to win in the city in which she resides, joining Ko, who did so last week at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
While all of those accolades are nice, there’s nothing like getting a win in your hometown, and for Korda, that makes this particular victory maybe not stand out above all the rest, but certainly, a tick more special than some of the others that she’s had since joining the LPGA Tour in 2017.
“Every win has a story,” said Korda, who is the first American winner of the 2024 LPGA Tour season. “Being in my hometown and having the hometown support was incredible. I didn’t think this many people would show up. Even on the first day, Thursday, the amount of people that were out here supporting was incredible. I couldn’t have done it without all their positive energy.”
Seven weeks off and a trip to the Czech Republic to visit her grandparents are on deck for Korda as she isn’t scheduled to play the LPGA Tour’s spring Asian swing in the coming weeks. So even though Korda will have to wait a while to utilize the positive momentum she generated this week at the LPGA Drive On Championship, this victory should set her up for more success as the season progresses, a breath of fresh air for Korda after a winless 2023.
“At the beginning of (last) year, I would never say golf is easy, but the top 10s were flowing. I was just flowing, playing well, but I could never take that step of winning,” said Korda. “Just knowing that even after a tough year that I can still win out here, and that I just need to relax a little bit more, do my work, keep my head down, and keep pressing on.”