PHOENIX – Jin Young Ko held off the Korda sisters.
Yeah, she had to beat a bunch of other hard-charging players Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but the Kordas served notice they may be ready to push each other to even greater heights this year. They looked as if they may be ready to push the entire American game to another level.
Ko won the day, claiming her first title on American soil, a breakthrough she said was an important goal.
The Korda sisters won a lot of American hearts, with their remarkable sibling rivalry looking as if it might be potent enough to fuel a new red, white and blue surge in the women’s game.
Ko played brilliant, mistake-free golf, winning her third LPGA title.
It’s taking that kind of effort to outplay Nelly these days, and Jessica showed in her impressive return from injury that she’s highly motivated to match or even surpass what her baby sister’s doing.
Ko won with a bogey-free, 7-under 65, prevailing after China’s Yu Liu bogeyed the last, failing to get up and down for par.
At 22 under overall, Ko was a shot better than Jessica Korda (64), Nelly Korda (66), Liu (70) and Carlota Ciganda (69).
Ko, 23, came from four shots behind at day’s start.
“Fifteen under for the weekend,” Ko said. “I’m happy with that.”
Ko’s 65 followed her 64 on Saturday. She was rolling in putts from everywhere. She made 15 birdies on the weekend without a single bogey.
“She just putts really well, I mean every week,” Nelly Korda said. “She's such a consistent putter. I think everyone will say that out here. That's a strong part of her game.”
Ko prevented Jessica Korda from completing one of the most memorable back-nine charges in LPGA history.
“It was awesome,” Jessica said.
She was seven shots back at the 11th tee.
Six holes later, she was tied for the lead.
“I knew I had to post a low one, just to kind of make the girls a little nervous,” Jessica said.
She eagled the 11th, birdied the 12th, eagled the 15th and birdied the 16th.
In the end, though, she was frustrated leaving a 30-foot birdie chance short on the 17th green.
“A little disappointed,” Jessica said. “I knew I had to make it. I thought it was going to be downhill. Just the difference in the shade, with the light, I guess it just confused me a little bit.”
Nelly has been on fire since last fall. She nearly claimed her third victory in her last eight starts, but a closing 66 wasn’t enough. She lipped out a 12-foot birdie putt at the last that would have forced a playoff.
“I'm bummed, but I'm not too bummed, because I played well this week,” Nelly said. “I'm happy with the way my game is trending.”
There should be consolation knowing that at 20 years old, Nelly is now the highest ranked American in the world. Her tie for second Sunday will push her ahead of Lexi Thompson, who didn’t play this week. Thompson was No. 7 in the world this past week, Nelly No. 8.
In the end, Nelly found as much satisfaction in Jessica’s finish as she did her own.
“At the end of the day, we're trying to beat each other, but I'm proud of the way she played this week, her first week back,” Nelly said.
Jessica, 26, was home resting her forearm injury when Nelly broke through to win her first LPGA title at the Swinging Skirts Taiwan Championship last fall and again when Nelly won her second title at the Women’s Australian Open last month.
There were equal parts pride and motivation watching her baby sister win.
“It's awesome,” said Jessica, a five-time LPGA winner. “She's one up on me this year, so I got to put my butt in gear.
“It's been so great watching her . . . just seeing how she carries herself and how she represents herself has been fantastic.”
Jessica, 26, aggravated her left forearm sometime late last year. She barely practiced for a month leading into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship and then skipped the first five events this year to rehab and heal up. It’s the same left forearm injury that caused her to withdraw from the Women’s British Open and the Solheim Cup two years ago. She said there’s a nerve issue involved, but through rehab she has worked to build the muscles around the injury.
There was motivation watching Nelly as she worked to get back.
“I can't say it enough, watching my sister grow up, and the way she handles herself, not just winning, but her day-to-day, I'm just so proud,” Jessica said. “It was great for me to watch it, but it sucked not to be out there.”
The South Koreans look as if they’ve got another formidable young star on the rise. The Americans look as if they’ve got a formidable sister act on the rise.