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 9th – 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 5-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."
"It's one of the top-20 shots I've ever seen. She saw it, I didn't. That's why she's the player." – Danielle Kang's caddie, Oliver Brett
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 seven 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 3-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 five 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."