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After ‘roller-coaster’ year, Nelly Korda defends Pelican Women’s Championship title

The Bradenton resident’s first LPGA Tour victory of the year comes nine months after she was diagnosed with a blood clot.
Bradenton's Nelly Korda clinched her second consecutive Pelican Women's Championship Sunday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Bradenton's Nelly Korda clinched her second consecutive Pelican Women's Championship Sunday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 14|Updated Nov. 14

BELLEAIR — Nelly Korda had won her second straight Pelican Women’s Championship title Sunday and soon would be sprayed with two bottles of champagne.

But the emotions didn’t hit the Bradenton resident until the first question of a television interview, when she was asked about the difficult months that had led up to the LPGA Tour tournament.

Korda said she’s not typically someone who cries, though she tends to shed a tear after victories. But this win, coming after she didn’t think she’d be able to compete after being diagnosed with a blood clot in her left arm in March and having surgery, struck her differently. She started to choke up.

“It’s just been such a roller coaster,” said Korda, who shot 6-under 64 for a one-shot victory at Pelican Golf Club. “I mean, I guess that’s life, though. There has been more downs than ups this year, I think, and I think that that’s what makes this so much sweeter to me.”

Korda’s final round featured seven birdies as she finished the tournament shortened to 54 holes because of Hurricane Nicole at 14-under 196, one shot ahead of Lexi Thompson.

With the win, Korda also regained the No. 1 spot in the world ranking, moving past Thai teenager Atthaya Thitikul.

Nelly Korda became emotional during a television interview after her second consecutive victory at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Nelly Korda became emotional during a television interview after her second consecutive victory at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

After the blood clot was diagnosed, the scary part for Korda was not knowing what would happen next. Her only knowledge about blood clots was that she had one. She tried to avoid searching Google for more information because that “makes you feel worse.”

Korda returned to the LPGA Tour in June at the U.S. Women’s Open; she tied for eighth. She had two runnerup finishes after that entering the Pelican, but her only win was in a Ladies European Tour event in Spain in August. In her last two LPGA Tour events before the Pelican, in September, she missed the cut. She said she probably shouldn’t have played those events because of all the traveling she had done.

Korda took around five weeks off from the LPGA Tour after that, with an October European Tour event mixed in.

After those missed cuts, Korda said, she didn’t think she could win an event like the Pelican. Her confidence had dropped, she said. Restoring it required a step-by-step repair during the time off, relying on memories from last year’s Pelican win in a four-woman playoff. She had the comfort of knowing her family watched from the crowd.

Nelly Korda had two bottles of champagne showered on her after the Pelican Women's Championship ended.
Nelly Korda had two bottles of champagne showered on her after the Pelican Women's Championship ended. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Korda began the final round two shots back of leader Allisen Corpuz. She and Thompson hovered at the top of the leaderboard Sunday, with Thompson rattling off four consecutive birdies toward the end of her front nine. But bogeys by Thompson on Nos. 11 and 12 narrowed the gap for Korda.

That’s when she made her move.

On the par-4 16th, the backspin on Korda’s second shot took the ball within feet of the hole. She finished with birdie and a fist pump. She also birdied the par-4 17th and gave a double fist pump because, she said, of her history with the hole. Last year, a triple bogey on 17 in the final round cost her the lead and helped set up the playoff.

“I just felt like it was a different shot (on the 17th),” Jason McDede, Korda’s caddie, said. “It was a different year. You try to just block out the bad and just focus on the good. And then to make birdie on there was kind of like a fitting way to end.”

Nelly Korda embraced caddie Jason McDede after sinking her putt on the 18th hole Sunday.
Nelly Korda embraced caddie Jason McDede after sinking her putt on the 18th hole Sunday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Korda bogeyed the par-4 18th after her second shot sailed past the green, her only bogey of the day.

Once the ball rolled into the cup, a period of waiting followed.

Waiting for the next two groups to finish. Waiting for Thompson to hit her second shot on the final hole, a shot that landed near the water. Waiting as Thompson tried to sink a difficult chip shot for birdie that would have forced a playoff.

When Thompson’s shot stopped short of the hole, Korda capped what she called a solid couple of weeks and difficult couple of months.

“We’re just grateful,” McDede said. “Grateful that she’s healthy. Grateful that we were able to play this year. I know, it’s a word that you probably hear a lot of times, but it really means a lot.”

Corpuz, a tour rookie, shot 69 and finished alone in third, three shots back.

The leading 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe points race advance to this week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Naples.

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