AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | We welcomed spring on March 20th this year, but for golf fans, the true beginning of the spring season is marked by the Masters Tournament. As fans speculate on who will win the green jacket in this year’s competition, one LPGA Tour major champion, Nelly Korda, fondly recalls her opportunity to play Augusta National Golf Club. And one of the fans favorites this year, Rory McIlroy, concentrates on his skill set to crush the field of players and capture the ever-elusive Grand Slam.
McIlroy is making his 15th appearance since 2009 with seven top-10 finishes in the past nine years. His best finish was runner-up last year where he recorded a score of 64 in the final round, his lowest round at Augusta National. McIlroy’s dream of winning is closer than ever. He said, “it’s a golf course that is very special to me, the players, and our game.”
Korda played Augusta National a year ago and said it was the most fun she has ever had playing a golf course.
“Not just the history of the golf course, but how fun every shot was,” recalled Korda. “There is so much undulation in that golf course. It’s not straightforward. You have to play with your shots. There is so much creativity that you actually need to have out there.”
Korda was surprised at the changing elevation while hitting her second shot into the green on No. 2, the Pink Dogwood, a par-5 played at 575 yards. “You don’t see that on TV at all,” she said. “You have to be there to experience the slope of the golf course.”
Comparing statistics for both players, distance remains a performance advantage for McIlroy with his length off the tee. Currently, Korda and McIlroy each have strong par-5 scoring averages, which benefits them when playing Augusta. The last five Masters winners are a combined 51-under par on the par 5s, which averages to -10.2 per winner.
|Nelly Korda vs. Rory McIlroy|
|2023 Performance Statistics|
|Driving Distance||272 yards||327 yards|
|Strokes Gained Off the Tee||1.22||0.85|
|Par 5 Scoring Average||4.37||4.42|
Playing the course at Augusta gave Korda an appreciation “for the shots that the guys hit out there.” She added, “when you actually get to play the course, you see how they pull off their shots and how good they are.”
Some have said a player needs to use every club in the bag to be successful at Augusta. The course challenges each golfer to perfect their course management and decision-making, but it’s putting performance that really matters.
McIlroy changed to a Scotty Cameron blade putter the week of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and that decision should continue to give comfort in his putting stroke this week in Georgia. Previously, McIlroy won all four of his major championships with a blade putter and it seems that he’s hoping this putter change will provide him some magic as he chases his first major title since the 2014 PGA Championship.
McIlroy has the lowest scoring average at 71.38 amongst players with 50 to 74 rounds played at the Masters and his recent form shows he’s primed for that streak to continue at this year’s competition. He has three top-three finishes in only six starts this season, including a win that came at the CJ CUP at Congaree Golf Club in nearby South Carolina in October. Confidence grows with wins and helps to build momentum, two important factors when it comes to the always challenging Augusta National.
According to data compiled in the KPMG Performance Insights, Korda is ranked 24th in strokes gained putting this season, earning close to one stroke on the greens. In comparison, McIlroy is losing less than half a stroke (-0.43) and ranked 175th on the PGA Tour.
|Nelly Korda vs. Rory McIlroy|
|2023 Scoring Statistics|
|Rounds in the 60s||15||9|
|Strokes Gained Putting||+0.80||-0.43|
Last year in Butler Cabin, McIlroy said, “This tournament never ceases to amaze. I’ll come back next year and keep trying.”
Playing Augusta is iconic and helped Korda to live a lifelong dream.
“It’s Augusta. It just explains itself right there,” said Korda. “So prestigious to even set foot on the golf course. It’s the Masters. It’s the vibe."