That’s what I’m talking about. The star power at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America was simply off the charts – and so was the golf. Twenty-five LPGA Tour winners were joined by 53 celebrities and even the name “Sorenstam” popped up on a leaderboard for the first time in a dozen years.
But ultimately, it was the quality of play that stole the show at the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club Orlando. For the second consecutive year, it took extra holes to decide a winner – although this time the action didn’t spill over until Monday as it did in 2020 when Gaby Lopez needed seven playoff holes to better first Inbee Park and then Nasa Hataoka.
This time, Jessica Korda rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of bonus golf to edge Danielle Kang for her sixth LPGA Tour victory after a Sunday shootout that was simply sensational. It was the fourth time Korda won her season debut and it sets hopes high for the season ahead – both for Korda and the LPGA Tour.
“Amazing,” Korda said, glancing down at the trophy. “It was obviously a huge grind. Danielle was playing so solid, and then Nelly started to make a bunch of birdies. I was like, Oh, my gosh. What's happening? I knew that I was going to have to go low today.”
The final round began with the spotlight on the glam group of Kang, Korda and her sister Nelly and it stayed there all day. Kang began Sunday with a two-stroke lead over Jessica with Nelly a seemingly insurmountable six strokes behind. But then things got interesting.
Kang, who tied the LPGA Tour 54-hole record of 192, closed with a 68 while Jessica Korda finished with a 66 as they ended regulation tied at 24-under-par 260. Nelly Korda made a brilliant charge with a bogey-free 64 to finish two strokes back.
After going 84 holes without a bogey dating back to last season, Kang finally slipped up with a three-putt on No. 15. Meanwhile, both Kordas were making a run, Nelly reeling off six birdies in seven holes beginning on No. 7 and Jessica making four in seven holes beginning on No. 6.
As they stepped to the drivable par-4 16th hole, Kang was 23 under par, Jessica 22 under and Nelly 21 under. When Kang drove into the right trees, it appeared to be anyone’s ball game - at least anyone named Kang or Korda.
A birdie by Jessica and pars by Kang and Nelly sent the trio to the par-5 17th hole with Danielle and Jessica tied for the lead and Nelly two strokes behind. All three birdied No. 17 and parred No. 18, pushing the outcome to a playoff, which Jessica made sure would not need an extra day.
“It was just a crazy, crazy day,” Korda said. “Crazy two days. Shooting 60 yesterday, getting myself back into contention after bogeying three holes in a row to finish my second round. Crazy week.”
The weekend fireworks at Diamond Resorts were a fitting finish to a powerful week that kicked off 2021, a year in which the Tour visits Olympic Club, Atlanta Athletic Club, Carnoustie Golf Links and Inverness Club in a 34-event, $75 million bounce-back from the pandemic pause of 2020. If Diamond Resorts was the rousing overture, let the show begin.
Saturday alone was a day for the history books. Kang shot 63 to maintain the two-stroke lead she had going into the weekend but lost three strokes to Jessica Korda’s 60, a score beaten only once in the 71-year history of the LPGA, that by Annika Sorenstam, who played in the celebrity field.
“Days like today don't come often, so you really cherish them when they do,” said Korda, whose previous best round was a 62 in the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand, which she also won.
The 60 was just the fifth in LPGA Tour history and first since Paula Creamer in 2008. The only 59 in Tour history was by Sorenstam in 2001. Larry Fitzgerald, the sure-handed receiver for the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, played with Korda during her magical round and had a ringside seat to witness greatness.
“The shot she hit on 18 was unbelievable,” Fitzgerald said about the birdie that capped Korda’s 60. “She played the contour of the greens, she hit it exactly where she wanted, and left herself below the hole. It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”
In all, 10 major champions were in the field at Diamond Resorts and they were joined by Hall of Famers from other sports, Grammy-winning musicians, stage performers and media personalities. The celebrity division, played under the Stableford format, was won by U.S. Davis Cup tennis captain Mardy Fish, with 158 points.
Chad Pfiefer, who lost his left leg above the knee in an IED explosion in Iraq and is a past winner of the National Amputee Championship, was second with 147 points. Sorenstam, playing the event for the first time, was ninth with 134 points.
The show put on Sunday by a couple of Kordas and Kang at Diamond Resorts set the bar extremely high for the new season. There’s only one thing to do now: Start gathering names to play in next year’s Tournament of Champions.