Nelly Korda and Bailey Tardy needed an extra hole to decide the outcome of the 2014 Kathy Whitworth Invitational at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth on Tuesday.
So when Tardy’s 4-foot par putt slid by the right side of the hole on the 18th green, it completed a comeback of sorts for Korda and dealt a heartbreaking loss to Tardy in the junior girls tournament.
Korda shot an even-par 71 and Tardy closed with a 72 in the final round to force the playoff.
It was a Whitworth breakthrough for Korda, 15, who made the cut at the U.S. Open last year along with her sister, LPGA pro Jessica. Nelly had tied for ninth and eighth in previous Whitworth starts.
“I was so nervous in the playoff and on that last putt,” said Korda, whose parents, Petr and Regina, were former pro tennis standouts. “I wasn’t hitting the ball very well, so I was just trying to tell myself to keep breathing a lot, not to get nervous and just grind it through.”
Strategy turned into an interesting dynamic as each player used a different way to negotiate the creek that winds up the middle of the 18th. Korda played her tee shot up the right fairway, and Tardy to the left.
From those positions, Korda was able to drop a short-iron approach to just 7 feet from the hole, whereas Tardy faced a more daunting approach.
Her gap wedge flew just past the flagstick, and the downhill release settled the ball 20 feet beyond.
“I always tell myself that pars win playoffs because you try to make birdie and you can really screw up,” Tardy said. “I hit a good shot there, and on the birdie putt I was trying to make sure I remembered to play it to miss on the high side. I just hit it too hard.”
It was Tardy’s fifth three-putt of the day, but proved the most costly. The high school junior, committed to Georgia, played her way into the final group last year, but ended up tied for 21st after a closing 82.
This year, Tardy held the lead with Robynn Ree entering the final round with Korda just one shot back.
All three players battled throughout the day and by the turn, Korda had made up the shot to pull even.
Korda trailed by a shot when she hit a fairway wood approach to six feet on the par-5 17th. She missed her eagle try, but tapped in for the birdie to draw even again.
Ree missed out on the playoff with a bogey and fell into a tie for third at 140 with Rinko Mitsunaga and Maddie Szeryk, who shot a final-round-best 69.
“I was just trying to keep nerves calm there at the end, and it feels pretty good to be able to come back next year as the defending champion,” Korda said.