Nelly Korda holds off Leona Maguire to win, sets scoring record at Meijer LPGA
Nelly Korda sometimes forgets to smile on the golf course, especially on Sundays.
It wasn't much a problem this time as the 22-year-old Florida native shot a 5-under 67, highlighted by a momentum-swinging eagle on the back nine, to win the seventh Meijer LPGA Classic at renovated Blythefield Country Club just northeast of Grand Rapids.
Korda is the second American to win the event, joining 2015 champion Lexi Thompson. She also becomes the first two-time winner on the LPGA Tour this season, having won in Orlando, Florida, in February.
She took the $345,000 winner's check, eclipsing $1 million ($1,118,930) for the season.
"I really enjoyed today," Korda said Sunday evening, the crystal Meijer LPGA Classic within grasp. "Honestly, there have been times where on Sundays I really haven't enjoyed it, the stress kind of ate (at) me, and I didn't stay in the moment.
"I felt telling myself if I make a mistake ... it's golf."
Korda, 22, of Bradenton, Florida, didn't make many mistakes, and she couldn't afford to, with Ireland's Leona Maguire charging hard, turning a three-stroke deficit after No. 15 into a one-stroke margin heading to 18.
Korda made birdie at the par-5 18th, the first time she's made a birdie on 18 of her four LPGA Tour victories.
At 25 under, she won by two, and set the tournament's scoring record by four shots. Canada's Brooke Henderson (2019) and South Korea's Ryu So-yeon (2018) shot 21 under the last two tournaments.
Last year's tournament wasn't played because of COVID-19, but the fans were back this week — the first LPGA Tour tournament with no fan restrictions since the start of the pandemic. And the crowd took to Korda, especially given she was followed around Blythefield by her boyfriend, former Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou, now with the Los Angeles Kings.
"It's cool to have a little cheer squad," Korda said this week.
Korda, whose sister Jessica also has won on the LPGA Tour this season, started the final round three strokes ahead, and didn't have the best start at even through five — including bogey on the par-5 fourth. Maguire, meanwhile, birdied three of the first four holes to tie Korda early in the round.
But Korda never did lose the lead, and caught fire on the back nine with birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. After a bogey at 12, she made par at 13 and then made eagle at the 14th. That gave her a two-stroke lead, and Korda followed that up with birdie at the par-3 15th to extend the lead to three.
Then Maguire birdied 16, while Korda bogeyed, and suddenly it was game on again.
"She kept me on my toes," Korda said. "She played really well. She's a really solid player and hopefully everyone was entertained. I was pretty entertained."
Maguire, 26, looking for her first LPGA Tour victory, shot a final-round 66 to finish 23 under. South Korea's Chun In-gee and American Brittany Altomare tied for third at 21 under.
Notably, Michigan State alum Sarah Burnham finished 9 under, tied for 57th, and current Michigan State player Valery Plata was 4 over, tied for 70th.
For Korda, the performance at the Meijer came as a bit of a surprise, as she was coming off a missed cut at the U.S. Women's Open. She then had a self-described "boot camp" with her father, Petr, a former tennis star who won the 1998 Australian Open. During the Meijer week, Petr was in Prague, giving his son a "boot camp" of his own, as Sebastian was getting ready for Wimbledon.
It's an athletic family, to be sure. For Korda, it was her fifth LPGA Tour victory. She's been in striking distance before the Meijer, finishing tied for seventh in 2019 and tied for ninth in 2018.
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"If you told me at the U.S. Open that I was gonna shoot 25 under, I would be like, 'Yeah, right,' but I did a good bit for work back home," said Korda, who, as winner, was asked by Meijer to pick a food bank for a $25,000 donation — and she kept it in Grand Rapids, for Kids Food Basket.
"I didn't really put too much pressure on myself this week. That was the key."
The LPGA Tour returns to Michigan from July 14-17 for the Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club. That's a two-person team event.