PGA Championship

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cognizant founders cup

Rose Zhang erases 3-shot deficit with 4 late birdies to capture second LPGA title; Nelly Korda T-7 in bid for sixth straight

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Elsa

In a stunning comeback, Rose Zhang won again in the Garden State.

In a back-and-forth affair between Madelene Sagstrom and Zhang over the weekend, the Swede built a three-shot lead with six holes to play at the Cognizant Founders Cup. Zhang, however, came through late with four birdies on the final five holes to punctuate a bogey-free six-under 66 Sunday to capture her second career victory.

"Coming down the stretch," Zhang said. "I just hit some crazy shots that I don't know if I could hit again. In that moment of pressure and was able to get it done with that putt on the last hole, I was already shaking over the putt, but I was just thinking, okay, let's give it a chance. Roll it, if it goes in, fine, if it doesn't, let's prepare ourselves for a playoff."

Nelly Korda, searching for her sixth consecutive victory on the LPGA, shot consecutive 73s on the weekend to fall well off the pace. Still, she tied for seventh place, 17 shots behind Zhang.

The weekend at Upper Montclair Country Club was a two-horse race. Sagstrom and Zhang co-led after the second round. Sagstrom, 31, held a one-stroke lead at the start of Sunday, with a three-way tie for third place 11 shots behind.

Sagstrom seemingly wrestled control in Clifton, N.J., after the 12th hole. Both reached the 468-yard par 5 in two shots, with the American sitting only 15 feet for eagle. Zhang three-putt for the first time all week, giving another stroke to the seven-year veteran. It was the first time either player held a three-stroke lead during the weekend.

The 20-year-old Zhang responded with birdies on the 14th and 15th to cut Sagstrom's lead back down to one before they both missed left on the 407-yard par-4 16th. Zhang, from 169 yards out of a bunker, hit a 6-iron to 10 feet below the cup. While Zhang settled for her only par of the closing stretch, the Swede made bogey from behind the green for them to be tied with two to play.

Sagstrom threw all she could at Zhang over the remaining two holes, salvaging par from 30 feet on 17 and hitting her approach on the 18th to inside five feet. Zhang answered both times and made birdies from inside 10 feet on each of the final two holes to seal her victory. Sagstrom missed her short birdie look to close with 69 and at 22 under, ending two strokes shy of her second career title.

"It stings a bit right now," Sagstrom said. "I felt like I gave myself a lot of good chances today. I played some pretty good golf. Played really good golf in the middle. And then, it's kind of like everyone. You get nervous and want to hit good shots. I wasn't really pulling it off. Rose had a fantastic finish. I couldn't really have done too much more."

The all-time amateur great has had an up-and-down sophomore season on the LPGA to this point. Zhang only played in one of the LPGA's first five tournaments because she’s taking classes at Stanford during its winter quarter. She finished her finals in late March. The last two events are the first time Zhang has made back-to-back cuts in 2024.

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Elsa

Zhang pointed out that trying to get into the Olympics, knowing she was on the cusp at the start of the year, and dealing with outside noise of how well she could play since her Mizuho Americas Open win last year led her to deviate from her process-oriented approach.

"Trying to block out everything did tire me out a little bit more," Zhang said. "I was a little bit more fatigued with being able to practice, and putting in the work when there were a lot of thoughts circulating with how my results are. I think more so I put the most pressure on myself to be able to perform well, and becoming more result-driven definitely doesn't help anyone, and that becomes a really bad cycle to be in."

Zhang will now defend her title at Liberty National next week, as the victory this week will move her well up from No. 22 in the world rankings. She needs to be among the top four Americans in the top 15 before the Olympics field is finalized after the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on June 23. It's a bunched-up group near 15th place, with Megan Khang (14th), Alison Lee (16th), Allisen Corpuz (19th), and Angel Yin (21st) all contending for the final two spots behind Nelly Korda (first) and Lilia Vu (second).

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Mike Stobe

Sagstrom and Zhang's runaway performances proved too much for Korda to overcome in her quest for six straight wins. The 13-time winner put herself in contention with a bogey-free 66 Friday to trail by four going into the weekend. But a 73 Saturday put Korda 11 strokes behind Sagstrom's 54-hole lead, ending any hopes of becoming the first to win six straight in LPGA history. Korda followed with another 73 on Sunday to end up T-7 at seven under par.

The finish falls similarly to how Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) finished in their quests for six consecutive wins. Lopez finished T-13 at the 1978 Lady Keystone Open, while Sorenstam finished T-12 at the Michelob Ultra Open. Korda settles for tying the LPGA's all-time record for most consecutive wins with five, starting from the Drive On Championship in January, culminating at the Chevron Championship three weeks ago.

"Maybe now or maybe in 10, 15 years it'll sink in," Korda said. "Hopefully someone beats it one day. But just to do that with all the competition out here is super, super rewarding with how much work that I've put in. So I think to get a streak like that in any sport in general is amazing with the amount of talent that I feel like every athlete has in their sport."