BELLEAIR, Florida – It was set up to a be a dramatic Sunday at the Pelican Women’s Championship, and the stars delivered. Though it was as shockingly good as it was bad.
World No. 1 Nelly Korda collected her fourth LPGA title of the season, making her the most decorated American player since Stacy Lewis in 2012. Lexi Thompson, on the other hand, reminded us that no amount of living room sessions on the Perfect Practice Putting Mat can simulate the pressure of needing to make a putt with everything on the line. For all the talk of Thompson’s improved putting this week, it’s three short misses down the stretch that will likely haunt her for some time.
After a back-and-forth battle that saw Korda, 23, and Lexi Thompson, 26, tied for the lead at 19 under with two holes to play, a session of ugly golf broke out on the short par-4 17th, with Korda making a triple from the fairway and Thompson missing a 4-footer for par.
“Honestly, I lost hope,” said Korda, who said curse words were flying as she walked down the 18th fairway.
Caddie Jason McDede told Korda to give herself a one-minute reset and think nothing but positive thoughts. Korda took the time to think about all the putts she’d made.
Being fired up though, has always been a benefit to her game.
“When I used to play against my dad when I was younger,” said Korda, “he would always try to piss me off because he always says that I step it up a notch when I’m pissed.”
Thompson held a one-stroke lead heading into the 72nd hole but, after Korda knocked in a birdie, missed yet another 4-foot putt for par, sending the foursome of Sei Young Kim, Lydia Ko, Korda and Thompson back to the 18th tee for a sudden-death playoff. Kim, the 2020 Pelican champion, had drained a 25-foot putt for birdie in regulation play to join them at 17 under.
In the playoff, Kim found the left fairway bunker off the tee and went long with her approach, as did Ko from the fairway. Korda, meanwhile, put herself on a similar line from before: This time 18 feet below the hole. Thompson, who was last to hit, left herself in a similar spot to what she faced in regulation as well, this time 6 feet left of the hole.
When Kim and Ko could do no better than par, Korda showed her moxie with a second straight birdie on the 18th hole pour the pressure back on Thompson.
As Korda stood off the side of the green with her hands behind her back, Thompson approached yet another short putt to decide her fate. Once again, the ball slid to the right, leaving an uncomfortable-looking Thompson heartbroken and Korda triumphant.
As Jessica rushed over to hug her little sister, an emotional Thompson stood off to the side with her caddie. This was supposed to be a redemptive moment for Thompson, with her mom watching in person for the time in nearly two years. The sting of the meltdown at The Olympic Club certainly still fresh in the minds of many watching from outside the ropes.
Thompson took one question after the round from an LPGA media official, who asked her to assess the week.
“Played a lot of good golf, made a lot of good putts, and just wasn’t meant for me in the end,” she said.
While Thompson hasn’t won on the LPGA since June of 2019, Korda has won five tournaments in that time. She now has a total of seven career victories.
With her victory in Belleair, Korda joins Jin Young Ko as the only players on tour with four victories this season. She also jumps 10 points ahead of Ko in the LPGA Player of the Year race with 191. A victory at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship is worth 30 points and second place is worth 12. Ko won last year’s edition.
“It doesn’t even feel like a season,” said Korda. “If feels like it’s two seasons. I feel like Lake Nona was a couple years ago.”
When asked to rank her accomplishments so far, Korda put the major on top of the heap, saying it was the hardest to win because it came on the heels of another title and it’s what she had dreamed about as a kid. Lewis, Korda’s pod leader during the Solheim Cup, sent a “great fighting” text to Korda when it was done. Korda loves the way Lewis never backs down.
“Even though I say I think I lost hope,” said Korda, “I will never give up. I’ll go down fighting every single time.”