BELLAIRE, FL. – With the biggest money tournament in the history of women’s golf coming up this week it’s easy to think of the two-year old Pelican Championship – the last event of the LPGA’s regular season – as anything more than a warmup event.
It was certainly no ho-hum affair on Sunday, however. It came down to a duel between American stars Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson, Korda winning on the first hole of a four-player sudden death playoff after Thompson gave away two good chances to win and another to extend the playoff in the final three holes of the day.
Both American-born Florida residents, Korda (Bradenton) and Thompson (Delray Beach) will remain in the Sunshine State for the CME Group Tour Championship. It tees off on Thursday with $5 million in prize money and a $1.5 million winner’s check on the line.
The Pelican purse was only $1.75 million, but it presented Thompson with the chance for a win she badly needed.
Long one of golf’s top women players, Thompson is the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open (she was 12 when she did it). She turned pro at 15 and won her first major title at 19. Now 27, she has gone over two years without notching her 12th tour title.
Thompson and Korda started the final round in a tie for the lead and still shared the top spot through 70 holes when both were 20-under par and dominating the field. Then Korda took a triple bogey at the 17th, missing a two-foot putt to conclude her nightmare.
Though Thompson three-putted for bogey she still took a two-stroke lead to the final hole of regulation. That didn’t solve her problems, however. Thompson hit her approach over the green at 409-yard par-4 eighteenth – the hardest hole throughout the tournament. Korda hit hers to 20 feet and made the birdie putt.
Thompson, feeling the pressure, putted from off the green to four feet but her par putt to win didn’t touch the cup. That set the stage for the four-way playoff between Thompson, Korda and two faster finishers – New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and South Korea’s Sei-young Kim. All finished at 17-under-par 263. Ko and Kim, hitting their approaches over the green, were out when Korda made another birdie putt from the same spot she had connected from moments earlier.
“I lost face (after the triple bogey),’’ said Korda, “and I was trying to focus on next week, in a sense. I had the same putt twice is a row.’’
Both went in.
Thompson also putted from the same spot she had to win the tournament in the regulation 72 holes, but this one — for birdie to keep the playoff going – also wouldn’t drop.
“It was a great week. I played a lot of good golf and made a lot of good putts,’’ she said, “but it just wasn’t meant for me in the end.’’
Even with its record prize money the CME Group Tour Championship will be hard-pressed to match the drama that unfolded on Sunday.
Korda goes into the LPGA’s season finale with lots of momentum. The reigning Olympic champion and No. 1-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings won her fourth tournament of the season on Sunday, the first American to do that since Stacy Lewis did it in 2012.
The Pelican, meanwhile, wasn’t just unusual for its weird finish. The tourney offered two-year leases for new Lamborghinis to players who made a hole-in-one on the 12th hole. Austin Ernst did it in the tourney’s pro-am and Pavarisa Yoktuan in the second round on Friday. The third, by Su Oh, was especially noteworthy. She started her round at No. 12 and was the first player to tee off on the featured on during the final round. That’s when she holed a 7-iron from 157 yards.