CHONBURI, Thailand – Now that was a jaw-dropping performance. Just 11 weeks after major surgery left 27 screws in her mouth, Jessica Korda broke the Siam Country Club course record with a 62 on Friday and then shattered the Honda LPGA Thailand 72-hole record with a 25-under-par 263, closing with a 67 Sunday to win by four strokes in her 2018 tournament debut.
It was nearly a twin win for the Americans as Lexi Thompson, who tied for second with Moriya Jutanugarn, closed with a 64. Thompson needed to finish second to catch No. 1 Shanshan Feng in the Rolex Ranking, if Feng finished out of the top five. But fifth is exactly where Feng finished to hold onto the top spot for the 16th consecutive week.
With the victory by Korda added to the season-opening win in the Pure Silk-Bahamas by Brittany Lincicome, Americans now have won two of the first three LPGA events of the new season and have Lexi lurking for No. 1 in the world. That should silence the What’s Wrong with the Americans talk – for now, at least.
Korda, who turns 25 on Tuesday and now has five career victories, was dominating from start to finish, separating herself from the field with that sizzling 62 in Friday’s second round. On Sunday, she held off game challenges from Thompson and Jutanugarn, who was trying for her first LPGA victory, which would have been especially satisfying in her homeland.
Korda, who had a four-stroke lead going into the final round, saw that advantage cut to two strokes when Jutanugarn birdied No. 10 but bounced back with birdies of her own on Nos. 11, 13, 15 and 17 to close in style and secure the victory.
“It was very, very nerve-racking,” Korda said about seeing her lead cut in half. “But Colin [Cann, her caddie] kept me calm. He just said, ‘We’re good. We’re very, very good.’” And very, very good is exactly how Korda played in shooting a bogey-free 32 on the back nine.
What made Korda’s performance utterly remarkable is that, not only was this her first tournament of the season but for nearly three months she barely played at all. On Dec. 7, she endured a three-hour operation that required breaking her nose as well as breaking her top jaw in three places and her bottom jaw in two places. Doctors said the surgery was the only way to correct the severe overbite that caused Korda to use only 20 percent of her teeth when she chewed.
She didn’t hit a golf ball for a month and her first swings in early January were left-handed. She admittedly came into Thailand with very low expectations.
“I can’t believe this,” she said as she prepared to receive the winner’s trophy. “Today was such a blur. I was nervous. But this is where I made my first start rookie year so having it be my first place back now is pretty cool. I played really well this week.”
That might be the early leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the year. Her rounds of 66-62-68-67 broke the previous tournament record by three strokes as she picked up her first victory since the 2015 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.
Korda simply overpowered the golf course, averaging nearly 270 yards off the tee and using only 109 putts. Remarkably, when she shot that 62, Korda hit only 12 greens but needed just 21 putts as she made eight birdies and an eagle.
Feng birdied the last hole as she closed with a 66 to hold onto the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Ranking. Her 271 finish was one stroke behind fourth-place finisher Minjee Lee and tied with Ariya Jutanugarn. At 272 were last week’s winner at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open Jin Young Ko, Brooke M. Henderson, Pornanong Phatlum and Lincicome. Korda's sister, Nelly, finished T-14.
Next up is the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, where former Rolex No. 1 Inbee Park is the defending champion. Last year, five different players held the top spot in the ranking. With Feng, Lexi, Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu in a logjam at the top right now, we could see our first change in four months in the week ahead.