Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda will square off in an LPGA primetime showcase Saturday in Hawaii, but it’s hardly a final-round duel, not with a packed leaderboard that includes other formidable firepower.
Henderson and Korda, though, give the Lotte Championship a finish featuring two of the most dynamic young stars in the women’s game, a pair of blonde bombers with covergirl looks who are two of the best drivers in the women’s game.
Henderson, 21, and Korda, 20, will be in the final grouping with Minjee Lee, who at 22 seems poised for a breakout campaign that could launch her into the conversation as the world’s best player. Lee is quietly sitting No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
With a 3-under-par 69 Friday, Henderson moved atop the leaderboard with Korda (71) at 14 under overall. They’re one shot ahead of Lee (70) and Eun Hee Ji (74), the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open champion and winner of this year’s LPGA season opener at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
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Henderson is looking to win this championship in back-to-back years and claim her eighth LPGA title.
She’s looking to close out with a 54-hole lead for the fifth time in eight tries in her career.
Korda is looking for her second victory this season, her third in her last nine starts. She’s No. 10 in the world rankings but looking as if she’s ready to make a run all the way to the top this season.
Lee is seeking her fifth LPGA title, her second at Lotte in the last three seasons.
Ji, 32, is in pursuit of her sixth LPGA title.
“Everyone is playing well out here,” Korda said. “We’re all going to be fighting really hard for it.”
Count Ariya Jutanugarn among that group of contenders. The former world No. 1 had the low round Friday with a 66 and is just two shots off the lead. She’s No. 3 in the world but unsatisfied with her start to the year, with just one top-10 finish among her seven starts.
“The last few months, I'm not trusting my decisions,” Jutanugarn said. “A lot of things going on. Today, I'm very trusting of my decisions. Tomorrow, I hope I can do it again.”
Jutanugarn can narrow the world-ranking gap on No. 1 Jin Young Ko, who looks secure to hold the top spot for yet another week, even if Jutanugarn wins. Ko (70) is six shots off the lead.
“It’s still a really packed leaderboard,” said Henderson, who is looking to equal Sandra Post’s eight LPGA titles as most among Canadians. “Kind of all just depends on the wind. Really, anything can happen.”
Henderson and Korda have a history that goes way back to their junior days.
“It’s pretty cool,” Korda said. “Gosh, I think we were both like 13 when we first started playing together. Yeah, it'll be a cool flashback, final pairing, final day.”
“Pretty much every tournament I've played with her, we were in the final groups together,” Henderson said. “So, very familiar there.”
Golf gets a treat in seeing how that rivalry emerges in the professional ranks.