We can’t get enough of Nelly. And she knows it. The No.1 player in the Rolex Rankings put on exactly the kind of show these Olympic Games needed on Thursday, firing a career-low-matching 62 at Kasumigaseki Country Club to take a four-shot lead into the third round. But it was so much more than that. After a slow start – four opening pars on holes where the field ahead of her had made one birdie on top of the next, and a day where an incoming weather system hung a huge question mark over the rest of the contest – Nelly put on the show everyone in her home country hoped to see. Four birdies and an eagle starting on the fifth hole and, just like that, she closed out the front nine in 30.
The blistering charge started with a double-breaking 15-footer for birdie on the par-5 5th hole. Then, on the drivable par-4 6th, Korda hit 3-wood 245 yards to 25 feet and made that putt for eagle to vault into the lead. Three more birdies to close out the front nine added some separation.
She made five more birdies on the back nine, which put every American fan who was still up watching on 59 watch. Had she birdied the final hole, Korda would have become the second woman in history behind Annika Sorenstam to break 60 in a tournament round. Korda’s older sister, Jessica flirted with the magic number earlier this year as well. In the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, the first tournament of the 2021 season, Jessica had seven birdies and an eagle in the final nine holes of the third round to shoot 60.
At the time everyone thought that would be the Korda moment of the year. But then Nelly posted a 63 at Atlanta Athletic Club during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, matching a course and championship record. That came a week after she’d put up a 62 at the Meijer LPGA Classic. And she made them all look easy. Fairways; greens; top 10 on tour in driving distance; top 20 in total putting; No. 1 in scoring average; No. 1 in rounds under par; No. 1 in rounds in the 60s; No. 1 in total eagles for the year; No. 2 in total birdies for the year – you get the picture. There’s no weakness, no big miss. There is no part of her game where you can say, Oh, if she was a little bit longer, or Gosh, imagine if she could make a few more 15-footers, or Goodness me, what if she found a few more greens in regulation.
Nelly plays golf the way Jack Nicklaus did in his prime. She’s longer than average, hits a ton of greens, makes the putts she’s supposed to and minimizes mistakes. She also has a golf swing that had Brandel Chamblee gushing in the Golf Channel coverage. “You won’t find a better one anywhere,” Chamblee said as he analyzed Nelly’s amazing move.
It is hard to find fault with any part of her swing, her putting stroke or her wedge technique. She is mechanically sound in every part of the game. But the real advantage is her emotional demeanor; her ability not to get ahead of herself; not to get rattled; not to let the moment get too big. At the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she found the water on the par-3 15th in the final round and made double bogey, the same shot and score Jason Dufner hit a decade earlier in the 2011 PGA Championship. Dufner had a 5-shot lead at the time and ended up losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. Korda, on the other hand, finished with three solid pars to win.
On Thursday in Japan, she stood on the final tee needing birdie to shoot 59. She pulled her tee shot – one of the only fairways she missed all day. But rather than try to hook an iron out of the rough, she punched out to wedge distance. That strategy didn’t work out. She found the greenside bunker and made double bogey to shoot 62. However, she immediately shrugged and put the hiccup behind her.
“Honestly, the limb (on 18) was in my way and I would have had to draw it around out of the rough,” she said. “I just didn't think it was worth (the risk). I was more thinking of, okay, pitch it out and then try to get it close and try to save a par. But I was a little too cute with that pitch shot and caught the bunker.”
As for the possibility of posting a 59, she said, “I wasn't thinking about it at all. I was like, oh, cool, I have a pretty good lead going into 18. Unfortunate (I made) that double on 18. But that's golf. That's just how it goes sometimes.
“Every day's a clean slate. You don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what you're going to shoot. The best you can do is go in with a good attitude and try your best.”