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After a dominant fourth-round 68, Danielle Kang won the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. With the victory, she avenged a playoff loss in the 2021 tournament, shooting -16 overall for a three-stroke win over Brooke Henderson. She led the field in both greens in regulation (82%) and putts per green in regulation (1.68).
“It was a bit different (from 2021). I think I was more aware of where I was. Things that I wanted to work on, that's the things that I wanted to execute,” said Kang, who started the day tied for second, one stroke off the lead. “It was a bit of a different goal, and end result, I always want to win, but it was kind of more than that for me this year. I'm actually proud of myself for the work that I've done to feel the way I have today.”
Playing in the penultimate group, Kang held a four-stroke lead through 15 holes, yet it all threatened to come unraveled when her tee shot at No. 16 went far left and nearly out of bounds. With limited backswing motion, she was forced to pitch out 100 yards past the hole but saved disaster by converting a two-putt bogey and only dropping one shot.
“I hit the first putt really firm. It was over 100 feet, and then I watched it roll by the hole. So that was important for me,” said Kang, who spoke all week of her constant work on feeling comfortable in uncomfortable situations. “So instead of freaking out about or panicking about the results, what if I don't make a bogey, what If I don't make a double, I was more focused on what I needed to do the best I can to hit the next shot with 100% commitment, which was to watch my putt, and I trusted that line and I made that bogey, so I was really proud of myself.”
Pars at 17 and 18 carried her home, with Kang officially earning the victory as she signed her scorecard when Gaby Lopez did not hole out from the tee on her final hole. It is the sixth victory of Kang’s LPGA Tour career and first since the 2020 Dana Open.
Henderson shot a bogey-free 70 on Sunday to jump to solo second, the best finish of her four Tournament of Champions performances. Despite the clean scorecard, Henderson couldn’t help but wonder about what might have happened if a few more putts had fallen.
“Wasn't really the day I was looking for. At the same time, you grind it out pretty well, and was happy to make two birdies. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough,” said Henderson. “Still proud of how we played out there today in those tough conditions. Danielle played amazing, so pretty cool to watch her go so far ahead of everybody else.”
Lopez, who was tied for second with Kang through three rounds, shot an even-par 72 on Sunday to finish in solo third at -12. Rolex Rankings No. 1 Nelly Korda broke her streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s, struggling to a 3-over 75 and finishing in a tie for fourth with Celine Boutier.
In the celebrity competition, 2004 World Series champion Derek Lowe knocked in a 15-footer for par to win a playoff over 72-time LPGA Tour winner and Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam. The pair had been tied at +138 through 72 holes, nine strokes clear of Mark Mulder at +129. The celebrity competition was played using a modified Stableford scoring system.
“I never checked the scoreboard until the 18th hole and I asked my wife, Where do I stand, and she says Annika has to par or we'll go to a playoff. I went and watched. What an amazing up and down on 18 she did,” said Lowe. “But it is honestly like one of the biggest events I've ever been part of or won. To play against Annika Sorenstam, how many people can say that, in a playoff, and to prevail? It was a great day.”
“I walked over and spoke to Derek. I said, How many playoffs have you been in? He said this was his first one. It's been my first one in a long time, too. Even though on my record I have a few more than he does,” added Sorenstam. “It is just nice to come back. Now I'm tired. I know that tonight I'm going to put my feet up and going to crash. When you don't play that well you're really on your toes all the time. It's up and downs that matter.”
BOGEY-FREE WEEKEND BOLSTERS BROOKE HENDERSON EN ROUTE TO SOLO SECOND
Canada’s Brooke Henderson capped off her week at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions with her 60th bogey-free round since 2016, firing a 2-under 70 to post -13 and finish solo second. With 16 pars and two birdies on the card, it wasn’t exactly the winning performance she was looking for. But overall, Henderson was pleased with the effort and proud of how she ground out a red number around a chilly Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.
“It wasn't really the day I was looking for,” said Henderson who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens. “At the same time, you grind it out pretty well, and I was happy to make two birdies. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. Still proud of how we played out there today in those tough conditions. Danielle played amazing, so it was pretty cool to watch her go so far ahead of everybody else. I came into this week thinking I had put in some solid work in the offseason, so it’s nice to see that it's paying off. Hopefully, I can use this momentum over the next couple of weeks and get a couple more top finishes.”
Henderson is set to tee it up at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio next week and will make the drive to Boca Raton hoping for warmer weather and less challenging conditions. Even though the Tournament of Champions and her career-best finish in the event will be squarely in Henderson’s rearview mirror, there’s still plenty of confidence to be gleaned from a top-five showing with three of four rounds in the 60s.
“For the most part, I think I did a lot of things really well,” she said. “It was nice to get up and down as many times as I did, and even a
couple of times when I hit the green, I made long putts. It was nice to go bogey-free the last two days. I would've liked to make a few more
birdies, make a little bit more of a charge, but at the end of the day, I can't complain too much. If you had told me at the beginning of
the week I would be in the top-five, I would be very happy. Definitely excited moving forward.”
OLD SCHOOL KANG GIVES SHORT GAME CLINIC
In all the hoopla and drama of a final round that saw four lead changes and a handful of notable names within striking distance for much of the afternoon, the pitch shot that Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions winner Danielle Kang hit on the par-5 15th might have gone unnoticed.
Might have. Unless you are of a certain age. Then it brought a little moisture to your eyes and a flutter in the chest.
It was, as the kids say, “old school,” the kind of thing that the analytics experts – the people who study computer algorithms and predictive models, but who have never won anything north of second low net in their club championship - tell you is a thing of the past. But those with some gray up top and a little pudge down below; those who know how to check the bulge and roll on a persimmon driver and remember how easy it was to cut a balata golf ball, those folks recognize the artistry of the shot Kang hit, and the importance of never letting it die.
Kang smiled afterward when asked about the shot. “I’ve been working a lot on bump-and-runs,” she said before thanking her coach, Butch Harmon, and making a joke about old-timers. “Butch makes me practice a lot of bump-and-runs.
“I chipped with a 46-degree there (on 15) instead of trying to hit a 50 or a 54 because it's more like a putt. As long as I’ve got the green speed down, which I have, I saw how the ball was going to roll and react to the green. I wanted that topspin. So, I just hit it as close (to the edge of) the green as possible and let it tumble. I stand the shaft up, put the ball back, set the toe down, and I just hit it aggressively through the ball. It comes off like a putt.
“You just can't be afraid of it, right? If you hesitate it's going to duff or chunk or going to catch a little bit too much toe spin. But as long as you're aggressive, it's always going come out with the nice topspin that you can create with your putter.”
For more from LPGA.com’s Steve Eubanks, visit https://www.lpga.com/news/2022/old-school-kang-gives-short-game-clinic
Rolex Rankings No. 10 Danielle Kang (68-67-69)
She hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, with 29 putts
This is Kang’s 11th season on the LPGA Tour; coming into the week, she has five career victories, most recently back-to-back wins at the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness Club and the 2020 Marathon LPGA Classic
This is Kang’s fourth appearance at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions; she was runner-up in 2020
Winner of the 2020 Vare Trophy, which is presented to the player with the season’s lowest scoring average
Represented the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics
A three-time member of the USA Solheim Cup Team (2017, 2019, 2021)
Partners with UNICEF for the Birdies to Build Better Futures campaign
Her brother, Alex Kang, plays on the Korn Ferry Tour