BRADENTON, Fla. — Twenty-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko came close to capturing her 21st Tour title on Sunday at the LPGA Drive On Championship, a win that would have earned Ko the 27th necessary point for automatic qualification into the LPGA Hall of Fame. But, despite a most valiant effort, Ko came up just a hair short, falling to Nelly Korda in a two-hole playoff at Bradenton Country Club to finish runner-up in her second event of the 2024 LPGA Tour season.
The 26-year-old began the day in a tie for second with Ayaka Furue and Megan Khang at 9-under. She made a double bogey on her third hole of the round, a mistake that appeared to have spelled an early end to her LPGA Hall of Fame chances. But Ko, as she’s wont to do, clawed her way back from that early mistake, making birdies on holes 4 and 6 to effectively erase the damage done by the double. She then picked up a pair of back-to-back birdies on holes 10 and 11 to move to 11-under and into a tie with Khang, who was one shot back of Korda at that point.
The back nine saw Ko stumble with a bogey on par-4 13th hole to drop back to 10-under overall, and she made another bogey on 16 to sit at 9-under with two holes to play. But Ko dug deep, recording an eagle on the par-5 17th hole to get to 11-under and parring the last to post the clubhouse lead. Meanwhile, Khang and Korda made bogey and double bogey, respectively, on the par-3 15th hole, each dropping another shot on the par-4 16th hole to sit three back of Ko with two holes to go.
Korda then did the improbable, matching Ko’s eagle on 17 to get back to 10-under and then tapping in for birdie after nearly holing her approach shot on 18 to tie Ko at 11-under and send the pair to a playoff. The first extra hole saw Ko hit her second shot left of the green – a misstep that saw her ball wind up nestled against the grandstand – while Korda easily knocked her approach shot inside 20 feet. Both players ultimately made par after Ko chipped it close and holed her putt, and Korda barely missed her birdie try from behind the hole.
They returned to the 18th tee for a second playoff hole, one that saw roles reversed as Ko hit the green and Korda went long on her approach shot. Korda then chipped it up to inside five feet, and Ko left her birdie putt short, ultimately lipping out her par try to lean the odds in Korda’s favor. The Olympic gold medalist buried her putt for par in front of her hometown crowd, and Ko could only smile as the crowds hollered for Korda as the pair had truly battled it out until the bitter end on one of the more thrilling Sunday afternoons in recent LPGA Tour history.
“Going into last week, who would've known that I would come first the first week and then be in a playoff to be able to win again?” said Ko. “I played really well this week. I think my second day was probably the most iffy. Other than that, just shows that you can never give up until the very end. I've been in a few playoffs. I think my last one was maybe the one with Nelly at (The ANNIKA). She won there as well. But I played solid. Just wasn't my time, and Nelly made a really good up and down on the last. Just wasn't my win.”
While coming oh-so-close to the LPGA Hall of Fame and ultimately falling short might be disappointing to a lot of other players, Ko doesn’t see things that way. She knows that her 21st victory and 27th point are both well within reach after winning the first event of the season at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. It’s only a matter of time and place at this point.
So, after Sunday’s final round, Ko will glean even more positives from her second consecutive week spent in contention and apply them to the next opportunity to get the job done on the LPGA Tour and claim that 27th point, which for Ko will be the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore in a few weeks’ time.
“Obviously, I three-putted the second playoff hole, but other than that, I don't feel like I lost the tournament,” Ko said. “I made a great eagle on 17, great par on 18, and then Nelly just went eagle as well and then birdied the last. It's kind of like what can you do? We played our hearts out until the very end, and we put ourselves into the playoff.
“I think I was a lot calmer last week than I thought I was going to be. I was a lot calmer today than I thought I was going to be. So, it depends on the situation. It's not a game about just me. There are 143 other players playing. All I can do is play the best golf I can and keep giving myself opportunities, and hopefully, it will happen.”
Sportsmanship is what it's all about 🤗 pic.twitter.com/8763Vm7Zv4— LPGA (@LPGA) January 29, 2024