Danielle Kang managed to steal some of the spotlight from the Korda sisters on Thursday as the LPGA Tour opened its 71st season with a winners-only field at the Tournament of Champions.
Kang opened the year with a bogey-free, seven-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda, along with defending champion Gaby Lopez, at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando.
World No.5 Kang is coming off a two-win season last year that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, winning back-to-back in Ohio when the LPGA resumed after a five-month shutdown.
The highlight for Kang, who birdied three of the four par-3 holes – including a 30-foot chip-in at the ninth – came at the 530-yard 13th.
Facing a downhill lie with 241 yards to the front edge for her second shot, and needing to hit a hard draw, Kang took a gamble with a five-wood and pulled it off, setting up a two-putt birdie from 20 feet.
She joked later her caddie, Oliver Brett, did not think she could hit the shot.
“It’s one of the top-20 shots I’ve ever seen,” Brett said. “She saw it, I didn’t. That’s why she’s the player.”
Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lincicome were at 66. Nineteen players in the 25-player field broke par.
A good portion of the day belonged to the Korda sisters. Jessica played her first nine holes in 7 under and was atop the leaderboard for a majority of a calm and sunny day. Nelly, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 4 in the world, caught her with a late run, dropping a long putt for eagle at 17 after reaching the green with a three-wood.
When Jessica reached her final hole, she glanced over to a digital leaderboard to see her little sister had her by a shot. So much for that. She ran in an 18-footer for birdie to temporarily join Nelly in the lead.
The world of women’s golf has waited for these sisters, two of the top young American stars, to battle head-to-head with a tournament on the line.
“We don’t really think about it too much,” said Nelly Korda, who atoned for three early bogeys by playing her last seven holes in 5 under.
“We both root on each other, but at the end of the day we want to beat each other, as well. It’s healthy, but a good competitiveness.”