Those who make their livings out there between the ropes call it “lurking.” When the highest-ranked player in the field - the defending champion no less - strolls round in four-under par on the opening day of a 72-hole event and sits within two or three shots of the early lead, fellow competitors tend to nod sagely. The old saying, “you can’t win a tournament on Thursday, but you can lose it,” might even get an airing.
So it is a safe bet that, not too long after Nelly Korda holed-out on Royal Adelaide’s ninth green (she started on the 10th) for a round of 69, those with hopes of relieving the world No. 3 of the title she won across the road at The Grange 12 months ago took note. Finishing ahead of the 21-year-old American on Sunday night is more than likely to mean pocketing a sizeable share of the prize-fund.
Korda has that sort of stature and reputation these days. With that rise in stature has come more confidence in her ability. And a re-assessment of just what she wants to achieve, too.
"I’m still learning,” she says. “That’s going to be for the rest of my career. I’m going to learn every year, every tournament about myself. But I think I’ve learned that i can compete with a lot of the girls. I can win multiple times. It’s a cool accomplishment to be the highest-ranked American, but my number-one goal as a professional is to be the No.1 golfer in the world.”
She’s getting there. Twice a winner on the LPGA Tour last year and once on the Ladies European Tour, Korda was an unbeaten star of the American Solheim Cup side that lost out to the Europeans by the narrowest of margins at Gleneagles in Scotland. Indeed, it remains something of a mystery that United States captain Juli Inkster left out Nelly and her older sister, Jessica, from the second-day four balls. Had the siblings - who won their two matches 6&4 and 6&5 - been selected, the overall result of the contest might well have been different.
Anyway, the younger Korda’s attempt to successfully defend an LPGA title for a second time - she has won the last two Swinging Skirts events in Taiwan - got off to what can only be described as an erratic start. Only only par was recorded over the first seven holes, by which time she was two-under par.
Things steadied thereafter though, the shot Korda dropped on the par-four 14th her last bogey of the day, if one does not count the “par” five she contrived from short range on the (not-so) long 17th. That was a bogey by any other name. Long, straight drives were a feature of the round, as was the squandering of maybe four more legitimate birdie opportunities. A 69 was good, but it could and should have been better, although a recent equipment switch - new irons and putter - represented at least short-term mitigation.
“It was a solid day,” said Korda. “Just about everything felt a little different. I am a little frustrated that I missed a few birdie chances. But the greens are tricky and firm, you definitely dolt want to miss them in the wrong places. So I’m happy enough. Hopefully I can keep on building from here. I never like to peak on the first day. It is more about staying steady. What did please me, however, was my driving. I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the off-season and I’m definitely hitting it further off the tee.”
That fact alone augurs well for her chances come Sunday. As long as she continues to lurk, Korda is the one to beat.