'Artistic' Korda returns to world No. 1 with victory



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PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif. — Nelly Korda took seven weeks off and nothing changed. She won again on the LPGA Tour and made it far more exciting than it needed to be.

Korda made bogey on her last two holes Sunday to fall into a playoff in the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship, and then ended it quickly with a 12-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to beat Ryann O’Toole and return to No. 1 in the women’s world ranking.

“I’m aging myself really quickly out here,” the 25-year-old Korda said.

Korda, who closed with a 2-under 69, won for the second time this year, both of them involving surprising collapses and amazing revivals. She won the Drive On Championship in Florida in January by dropping four shots in three holes on the back nine, only to rally with an eagle-birdie finish to beat Lydia Ko.

She hasn’t played since then, skipping the Asia swing and returning this week with a little bit of rust that didn’t take long to shake off. Korda seized control by smashing a fairway metal up the hill on the par-5 14th. The ball caught a slope at the back of the green and rolled down to 18 feet, and she made the eagle putt.

O’Toole holed a 20-foot par putt on the 18th for a 66, and that looked to be good only for second place. And then Korda made it interesting.

She missed a 5-foot par putt on the 15th hole. She went just over the green on the par-5 16th with a 7-iron and made birdie. She came up short on the par-3 17th and missed a 6-foot par putt. And then she went long on the 18th and failed to save par again.

“Eagle, bogey, birdie, bogey, bogey. Yeah,” Korda said. “I say this all the time, but I seem to always make it interesting. Just doing normal Nelly things, making it interesting.”

They finished at 9-under 275, and the playoff ended quickly.

O’Toole hit 7-iron from the right rough to about 15 feet and her birdie putt burned the edge of the cup. Korda hit 8-iron to 12 feet and poured it in for her 10th career LPGA title.

“At least I gave it my best attempt,” O’Toole said. “That putting could have gone either way. Nelly played really great. Obviously, last couple holes for her put her in the position to be in a playoff with me. Hey, I came from behind and gave it my best chance. I can’t be more proud.”

Korda decided to skip the entire Asia swing, giving her nearly two months off. It helped that her swing coach, Jamie Mulligan, works down the road at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach and was able to work with her after each round.

It also helped to calm her anger after the bogey-bogey finish.

“I vented to my coach on the putting green and then he asked me if I’m ready to be positive. Took a little bit and then I was ready,” Korda said. “And then we talked a little bit, laughed a little bit. He’s really good at just cracking jokes, which sometimes I just give him a pity laugh.”

And then she reminded herself that despite the sloppy finish, the trophy was still in her sights.

Making it tougher were brutal conditions of wind and cold. O’Toole was wearing ear muffs when she holed her clutch putt at the end of regulation.

Korda seemed to embrace the challenge.

“The weekend was brutal,” she said. It’s also the beauty of the game. It’s fun to be able to play in these conditions and be a little more artistic.”

Jiyai Shin, a former world No. 1 who has been the top player on four worldwide tours, shared the lead going into the final round but fell back for good with a three-putt double bogey on the 12th. She closed with a 73 and tied for fifth.

Gabriela Ruffels (70) and Alison Lee (72) tied for third. Ruffels needed a birdie on the final hole to join the playoff.

Korda replaces Lilia Vu at the top of the women’s world ranking.



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