Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson co-lead a holy-smokes kind of leaderboard at Pelican LPGA

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BELLEAIR, Florida – The leaderboard at the Pelican LPGA Championship is an absolute dream. World No. 1 Nelly Korda, tied with 11-time winner Lexi Thompson at 16 under, headlines a holy-smokes kind of board in the penultimate event of the LPGA season.

Jennifer Kupcho, the first woman to hoist a trophy at Augusta National, trails by one and rounds out the all-American final group. While Kupcho looks for her first victory on tour, Thompson looks to win for the first time since June 2019, and Korda looks to claim her fourth LPGA victory to overtake Jin Young Ko in the Player of the Year race. No American has won four times in one season since Stacy Lewis in 2012.

Add in the always-entertaining Christina Kim, who is two back at 14 under and looking to save her card, 2020 Pelican champ Sei Young Kim (-14), 2021 Rookie of the Year Patty Tavatanakit (-13), former No. 1 Lydia Ko (-13), Solheim sensation Leona Maguire (-12) and fan favorite Maria Fassi (-10), and it’s a can’t-miss kind of Sunday.

Also on the line: berths in the CME Group Tour Championship for a chance to win $1.5 million and, for players like Lauren Coughlin and Kim, a chance to avoid LPGA Q-Series.

Sunday will mark the first time that Korda and Thompson will compete in the final group together, but don’t look for Nelly to come out of her shoes trying to rip one past Thompson.

“I mean, I feel like in distance, we’re pretty close,” said Korda, who is averaging 308 yards off the tee this week. “I do definitely have another gear, and I don’t like to whip that out because that gear, I never know if it’s going to go right or left. That’s why I like to keep it level, pretty much. But I mean, she’s playing well. I heard she’s putting really well, too.”

Thompson, who is playing in front of her mother Judy for the first time since the 2019 CME, is averaging 26 putts this week and said she has frequently put in three-hour sessions on her stroke of late. That includes evening sessions on the Perfect Practice Putting Mat.

“Oh, it’s right in my living room,” said Thompson, with a laugh. “Just stares at me. So I’m like, I guess I should putt.”

Kim, who is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, played her first competitive round with Korda on Saturday and said she might be her new biggest fan.

“Like in terms of as a human,” she said. “Obviously her golf, you can hand her a frying pan and she’ll be able to do anything with any club.

“But as a human being, like the grace that she has, she was super patient with me because I was like, ‘Let’s talk.’ And she was just totally open to it.”

Maguire, the undisputed “Woman of the Match” at Inverness in September, opened the week with a 62 and thinks she might need another one to contend on Sunday.

“I suppose this golf course sort of demands your attention,” said Maguire, who like Kupcho and Fassi, is looking for her first win on the LPGA.

Ko arrived on the west coast of Florirda on Monday, fresh off a victory on the Ladies European Tour in Saudi Arabia. She went to bed at 1:30 a.m. and woke up at 5:30 a.m. ready to go. It was a rough practice round.

“Kind of didn’t know who I was at that point,” said Ko, who noted that she often sleeps so soundly on long-haul trips that flight attendants sometimes ask if she’s OK.

When she doesn’t have a tournament the next week, Ko often pulls an all-nighter before leaving so that she can sleep through entire international flights.

“To all the flight attendants out there,” she said, “I’m the most probably low-key, hands-off, hands-free passenger onboard.”

Should Ko win on Sunday, she can simply pack up the trophy in the car and head on down to Naples, Florida.

The all-nighter, of course, is optional.