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The first LPGA Sunday of the season will feature – gasp! – leaders Annika Sorenstam and Nelly Korda in the final group. Sorenstam, who leads the celebrity division at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, became the first player to reach No. 1 in the world when the Rolex Rankings debuted in 2006 and Nelly Korda, of course, is the current No. 1. They’ll be joined by 2020 TOC winner Gaby Lopez.
While in some ways it’s a beautiful blend of past and present, both did just win a major last year. Korda broke through with her first at the KPMG Women’s PGA, and Sorenstam won in her debut at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
“She still has so much game,” said Nelly. “Think she shot 1- or 2-under on the back nine. She’s not hitting it as far off the tee, but, gosh, her woods and her iron game into the greens is so good.
“Like on 18, that was an amazing shot.”
Korda leads the LPGA field of 29 by one shot over Danielle Kang and Lopez. At 13 under par for the tournament, Korda carded her 11th consecutive round in the 60s, dating back to last season, when she posted 69 on a cold, windy and rainy day at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.
“Yeah, felt like I was at British,” said Korda.
Nelly Korda of the United States plays her shot from the 16th tee during the third round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 22, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Sorenstam lives off the 16th hole at Lake Nona and normally wouldn’t leave the house on such a dreary day, but she took a champion’s mindset into battle.
“It’s one of those days that normally I wouldn’t be outside,” said Sorenstam, “but because of the tournament you get a little extra fired up and you go out there and try to hit one shot at a time.”
Sorenstam tops the celebrity field of 50 by two with 104 points in the modified Stableford scoring format. Former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe is solo third and U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish sits in solo third at 100 points.
“I am super excited that I’m leading by two,” said Sorenstam. “I wasn’t really paying too much attention. I know I was kind of going head-to-head there with Derek a little bit, but I didn’t know what the guys in front were doing.”
Frustrated by the length of her drives on Saturday, Sorenstam got friendly with her 5-wood and hybrids and hit several beauties.
“If you start thinking about how long it is and how difficult, then it gets really tiring,” said Sorenstam. “I try to be positive. (Husband/caddie) Mike was really positive, too. He was like, ‘Hang in there. If you can have a good attitude, right there is one or two shots.
‘So just do what you can and then think about the fireplace, and this evening you’ll be warm and cozy.’ ”
There’s plenty of firepower behind Korda, with Brooke Henderson two back in solo fourth and 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso three back at 10 under.
Saso became the first Filipino person to ever win a major last summer at Olympic. This season Saso, who lives in Tokyo, is competing under the Japanese flag.
“I’m very proud of my dual citizenship,” said Saso. “Whatever I represent, I’m Filipino. So it was just for passport more, because if I have Japanese passport then I can travel mostly everywhere with no visa, and that will be very helpful for my game, for my career.”
Korda looks to win her eighth career title on Sunday. She won the Gainbridge LPGA at Nona last February.
“The leaderboard is stacked,” said Korda.
Couldn’t have scripted a better start.