This Gainbridge Championship was all about family: the Kordas; the Sorenstams; the LPGA Tour family and the family of golf. For the second time in two events, a Korda won – this time Nelly. And playing for the first time since 2008, Annika Sorenstam captured yet more hearts as all of golf honored an injured Tiger Woods.
Nelly Korda was as impressive in Sunday’s final round as big sister Jessica was when she won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Nelly closed with a bogey-free 69 to pick up her fourth Tour victory – and first in the United States – at 16-under-par 272.
Three strokes back at 275 were a couple of major champions – Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, while Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko was fourth at 277. Sarah Kemp and Patty Tavatanakit were at 278 with Angel Yin at 279.
The Kordas joined Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam in 2000 as the only sisters to win back-to-back tournaments on the LPGA Tour. And now Jessica, 28, with six wins, leads Nelly, 22, by just two victories.
Playing in the shadows of her home off the 16th hole at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Sorenstam showed daughter Ava and son Will that Mom still has chops by making her 299th cut in 308 starts on the LPGA Tour.
Never in the 71-year history of the Tour has there been a more glorious 74th-place finish as Sorenstam, who made the cut right on the number and had to play competitive rounds four days in a row for the first time in more than 12 years.
It was fitting that Sorenstam returned this week since she shared headlines with Woods for nearly 15 years. They both burst on the scene in the mid ‘90s, Annika retiring after the 2008 season, the same year Tiger won the 14th of his 15 majors and the year his string of injuries began.
They shared the headlines again last week because of Sorenstam’s return and because of the horrific car crash on Feb. 23 that threatens Woods’ competitive playing future.
Through his career, Woods has worn a red shirt on Sunday and the entire Sorenstam family – Annika, husband/caddie Mike as well as Ava and Will – donned those colors out of respect for Tiger, as did many players in the Gainbridge field.
Nelly Korda wore peach – “The closest I have to red” – but her caddie Jason McDede was among the many caddies who sported a red shirt, as did U.S. Solheim Cup captain Pat Hurst, on hand to scout her team. She had to like what she saw.
“Honestly, I did not play very good golf today,” Nelly Korda said, fighting back tears. “I just played very solid. I would not be where I am without Jason,” she said about her long-time caddie.
“Winning in front of my parents, that’s a first,” said Korda, who won twice in Thailand and once in Australia. “It was really nice.” Petra and Regina Korda live in Bradenton, Fla.
Korda began the final round with a one-stroke lead over Tavatanakit and three strokes ahead of Yin, Jin Young Ko and Lydia Ko. But three birdies in the first six holes gave her breathing room and she closed with 12 consecutive pars to seal the deal.
For Sorenstam, the effects of being away from competitive golf for so long were apparent on the weekend. Perhaps the most under-appreciated demand of completion is the mental strength needed for four consecutive days. That is not something you can practice on the range, but rather only get from reps under fire.
“I'm just thankful for being here, playing here and being able to make the cut,” Sorenstam said. “I accomplished what I wanted, which was to go out here and just play and play and play. The purpose was to get some tournament rounds and I did that.”
That raises the question of whether we will see Sorenstam again soon in an LPGA Tour event.
“No,” she said, “I mean, no,” sounding very much like she sounded after the 2003 Colonial Invitational when asked if she would play again on the PGA Tour, a vow she kept.
“I have so much respect for these players,” Sorenstam said. “My level of golf is not where it needs to be. I know I don't have the motivation to get there. I don't even know physically if it's possible.”
There is a possibility, however, if not a likelihood, that Sorenstam will play in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open this July. She turned 50 last October and is now eligible. She certainly proved she has the game to contend.
This week the Tour moves north of Orlando for the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala. Sorenstam is not in the field, but both Kordas are, as are Lydia and Jin Young Ko, Thompson, Yin, Sei Young Kim and Sung Hyun Park.
That’s quite a field to try to stop the Korda sisters from keeping this LPGA Tour season a family affair. And that’s quite a storyline to have this early in 2021. Suddenly, 2020 seems like a long time ago.