BELLEAIR, FLA | With just 18 holes left to play at the Pelican Women’s Championship, defending champion Nelly Korda has found herself in contention after carding two straight rounds of 66. Though she’ll enter the final round on Sunday a few shots back of the lead, a trophy is clearly in sight.
“I think sometimes it’s better to be the chaser than being in the lead, but I’m going to stick to my game plan and try to attack the pins as much as possible,” Korda told Golf Channel on Saturday. “I’m an aggressive player, so I’m just going to stick to my game plan and see how it goes tomorrow.”
Korda is still searching for her first win in what has become a turbulent year for the young super star. She missed much of the first half of the season due to a blood clot in her arm and took the last five weeks off after missing consecutive cuts at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G and the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America.
“It would be nice (to get a win),” Korda said. “It’s been a tough year for sure. I worked my butt off as well. I definitely put in a lot of hours, so it would just be hard work paying off.
“Everyone out here works really hard, so everything just has to click for someone to win that week. I still have tomorrow, and I have one more event to finish the year off and hopefully something will be clicking.”
Something was definitely clicking for Korda Saturday morning. She opened the day with a birdie and carded four straight birdies on holes four through seven. The 24-year-old gave all the credit to her pitching wedge for her birdie-streak on the front nine.
Things started to slow down for Korda when she made the turn and was forced to put down her pitching wedge. She finished out the day with two bogeys and just one more birdie.
“Just not really hitting the shots that I typically would,” Korda said of her back-nine. “I was in between a lot of clubs. Yesterday when I was in between clubs I went a little long. Today was opposite, a little short. Just not trusting myself I think on the back nine.”
Korda will need to find that perfect balance in her approach to leapfrog to the top of the leaderboard and defend her title on Sunday. Last year, the Pelican Women’s Championship proved to be a ball striking test. Korda’s win was driven by stellar driving and strong approach play; after 72 holes, Korda came out on top in strokes gained off-the-tee (+1.42) and ranked fourth in strokes gained approach (+2.03).
So far, Korda has had no troubles off-the-tee. She has hit all 28 of her fairways, averaging 270.25 yards off-the-tee. Her approach has been the missing piece. After missing just two greens in her opening round, Korda found only 13 of her 18 greens in regulation on Saturday. Korda’s final bogey came on 18, after she overshot the green and was faced with an unfortunate angle for a chip shot on one of the slopiest greens Pelican Golf Club has to offer.
Luckily, Korda has a couple more tricks in her bag besides her driver and pitching wedge. A Bradenton-native, Korda proudly claims a homefield advantage at Pelican Golf Club. In fact, when Hurricane Nicole shorted the tournament to 54-holes, Korda made an hour-or-so trip to her parents’ house. She spent the unexpected day off with them and was able to get a little more comfortable going into the weekend.
“I enjoy this golf course,” she said. “I think it’s just what I grew up on and I like knowing that my parents are in the crowd as well. It’s just a different comfort level.
“I took time to dial in a little bit more knowing that this was more of a home game for me on the turf that I really grew up on.”
Korda can still come away with a win of some kind this weekend, even if she doesn’t take home a trophy. Currently No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda could retake her No. 1 spot with a finish as low as solo-fourth – as long as No. 3 Lydia Ko finishes below her.
Whether she finds a win tomorrow or not, Korda is certainly poised to make a splash in her home-state.