Danielle Kang grabs sixth LPGA win at season-opening Tournament of Champions
Sunday featured a pair of aces in the LPGA season opener.
Nelly Korda, ranked No. 1 in the world and playing with Annika Sorenstam, the first-ever World No. 1 when the Rolex Rankings debuted in 2006, led by a shot heading into the final round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
But in yet another day of drizzly conditions, Korda slid backwards down the leaderboard as she carded a couple of bogeys to go with a bunch of pars before finally managing a birdie on the 15th hole.
In her place stepped Danielle Kang and Gaby Lopez, who made their moves at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.
Lopez won the 2020 Tournament of Champions at Tranquilo and midway through Sunday’s round, she led by three shots. Undeterred, Kang came on strong late. She birdied the ninth to shoot a 1-under 35, then birdied the 11th and 13th holes.
On No. 14, a fan yelled ‘Get in the hole!’ as Kang was rolling in an 8-foot putt for birdie, her second straight and third in four holes. She punctuated that putt with a fist pump and walked off the green up two shots on Lopez. On No. 15, Kang made a third straight birdie to get to 17 under and go up by three shots. She was up four shots with three to go after Lopez bogeyed the 15th.
Kang gave one back on 16 but parred the final two holes for a 68 to finish 16 under and grab her sixth career win and first since winning twice during the 2020 season. She was runner-up in the event a year ago. This win earned her $225,000 and brings her career total to $7,252,950.
“My mental game was really good,” Kang said. “I had a really good attitude all day today and yesterday. I know I left some putts out there, but I never let it get to me and I kept having to give myself birdie chances as much as possible.”
Being able to battle through the conditions really paid off for Kang.
“I shot 4-under in the cold today and 3-under yesterday. Probably the best I’ve ever played in the cold and I’m proud of myself for that.”
Brooke Henderson had two birdies in a bogey-free round of 70 and finished second at 13 under. Lopez closed with a 72 to finish solo third at 12 under.
Despite not finishing this week with a win, Lopez indicated she got a lot out of the week.
“I’m ready for any challenge out there. I’m ready to press the gas pedal down. I’m ready to be in contention more often. I’m ready for winning championships,” she said after her round. “I feel that I probably couldn’t say this very confidently couple years ago, but now I do.”
Korda won a different event, the Gainbridge LPGA, at Lake Nona a year ago. But her final-round 75 Sunday put an end to her streak of 11 consecutive round in the 60s. She finished tied for fourth with Celine Boutier at 10 under. Korda said she will play the next two weeks on the LPGA’s Florida swing but has plans to take the next six weeks after that off.
“It’s my first tournament this year and I finished in the Top 5, so at least I can take that away,” Korda said. “I chipped it well and hit some pretty good shots here and there, so I’m going to take that way from it. I was in the final group again on Sunday, so I’m going to try to learn from a that again.”
Yuka Saso also shot over par on the final day. She posted scores of 68-70-68 but closed with a 73 to finish solo sixth. Defending TOC winner Jessica Korda shot 72-72 over the weekend to finish solo seventh.
The field of 29 pros were joined by 50 celebrities, including Sorenstam, who led in the modified stableford scoring format after the first and third rounds. She scored 34 points Sunday on her home course at Lake Nona to tie former Major League Baseball pitcher Derek Lowe, who had 36 points Sunday. Those two ended up with 138 points for the week. Another former MLB pitcher, Mark Mulder, finished third at 129 points.
Sorenstam kept on Lowe’s heels throughout the day on Sunday. She made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 to reclaim a share of the lead. After falling back again, she made another birdie on 15 to tie Lowe once again. On 16, she missed a par putt to fall two points back with two to go. On the final hole, she made a clutch up-and-down to tie Lowe.
(By Todd Kelly/GolfWeek)