What once looked like a breakthrough victory for an American teen, unpredictably shifted toward a potential repeat dual of last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, and then quickly turned into a playoff party for six at the LPGA’s season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Melbourne. But in the end, the girl who held the lead at the start was the same girl holding the trophy at the finish line. Jessica Korda holed a 25-foot putt for birdie on the 2nd playoff hole to cap off a wild afternoon amidst rain showers for her first career LPGA victory.
The 18 year old Korda, daughter of the well-known tennis star Petr, started the day with a slim 1-shot lead and assumed control of the tournament with a steady front nine. Yet a string of three straight bogeys on the inward nine at 14, 15 and 16 opened the door for a big finish at Royal Melbourne’s Composite Course that included last year’s U.S Open champ So Yeon Ryu and the event’s runner-up Hee Kyung Seo.
Korda, actually birdied 17 to give herself new opportunity and like Ryu, and Seo had a birdie chance at 18 in regulation to win it. None could convert however, and thus the 6-way playoff broken into two groups of three which played the 18th twice, eliminating players along the way to decide the winner.
Stacy Lewis (70), Brittany Lincicome (71), and Julieta Granata (71) all posted sub-par rounds to finish the tournament at minus-three and earn their lottery ticket in the massive playoff puzzle. Lincicome joined Ryu and Seo in a playoff threesome. Korda was grouped with Lewis and Granata.
Lincicome had the best chance to win on the first playoff hole after a terrific approach shot. But her 3-footer for birdie circled the cup and never dropped. All six settled for pars on the first go- around.
Korda’s first victory couldn’t come at a better venue. Petr Korda was a well-known tennis star and counts the 1998 Australian Open as the biggest of his many titles. Now his daughter is making her own racket in the game of golf and has an Australian title to her credit as well.
Korda, who is in just her second year on the LPGA after turning professional in December, 2010, stayed steady for four rounds in varying playing conditions on the famous and difficult Royal Melbourne Golf Club shooting rounds of 72, 70, 73 and 74..
Rolex Rankings No.1 Yani Tseng lurked near the top of the leaderboard all week despite a second-round 76 that included a quadruple bogey 8 on the par-4 seventh hole. Things didn’t go well early for Tseng on Sunday either as she triple-bogeyed the 4th and ultimately finished 2 shots out of the playoff at minus one. Tseng will have the opportunity to defend her title next week at the Honda LPGA Thailand where she won by five strokes in 2011 over Michelle Wie.
Playing in her first tournament as a member of the Tour, heralded LPGA rookie Lexi Thompson finished the week in a tie for 24th. Thompson never broke par in any round and finished with a second consecutive 75.
For Korda, who started the week at number 285 in the Rolex Official World Rankings, the win changes her stature in a hurry. It catapults her into the lead in the Rolex Player of the Year race and also the 2012 LPGA Official Money List with a first-place check of $165,000.
The teenager, who was a member of the 2009 USA Junior Solheim Cup and the 2010 USA Curtis Cup teams before earning her LPGA card with a runner-up finish at the 2010 LPGA Qualifying Tournament Finals, now becomes a Rolex First-Time winner who can boast of holding off the likes of a U.S. Open winner in So Yeon Ryu, 2011 Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Hee Kyung Seo, and major champions in Brittany Lincicome and Stacy Lewis.
The LPGA Tour is in the midst of a three-week Asia-Pacific swing that includes stops in Australia, Thailand and Singapore for the HSBC Women’s Champions.
Log on to LPGA.com later today for more extensive notes and interviews from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.