NAPLES, Fla. — The final event on the LPGA 2019 calendar has been made more interesting by the fact that the 60-player field is competing for the largest winner's check in the history of women's golf: $1.5 million. There have been questions as to how the money is going to affect players, whether it would increase pressure and if so who will respond the best to it.
It was impossible to have that conversation and not bring up the third-ranked player in the world, Nelly Korda. And though her first-round score of five-under 67 at Tibur´on Golf Club has her just two shots off Sei Young Kim's lead, Korda needed a perfect finishing stretch to get there.
Korda, 21, won the last event she played before the CME Group Tour Championship, defending her title in the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA. She had one other win and seven other top-10 finishes in 2019, elevating her to No. 3 in the world, her highest ranking of her career. She, too, is the top-ranked American. All of that would make her an obvious choice for someone to watch in the season's final event.
But Korda started slow, with a bogey at the fourth hole. That was quickly remedied by three birdies in a row, at the sixth through eighth holes. But another bogey at 12 dropped her to one under. With So Yeon Ryu and Georgia Hall already in early with 67s and Kim on that same pace in the group ahead, Korda needed to rally, and she did so, with a birdie, eagle, birdie finish.
"It's kind of like our sixth major, to be honest," Korda said before the tournament started, when asked what it would mean to win the event. "Yeah, it would mean a lot to me, especially with it being kind of at home and having my family around. It would mean a lot. But I'm not really concentrating on that too much. I'm just concentrating on that first tee shot so far and see how it goes."
Only two years removed from her rookie season, Korda plays like a veteran. "I'm a bit more mature," she said. "I'm a bit more mature as a person for sure. Being out here you definitely have to mature to succeed."
When she talks about what she's already accomplished and hopes to accomplish going forward gives insight into how her athletic mind works.
"It's a cool accomplishment to be the highest ranked American, but definitely my number one goal as a professional golfer is to be the number one golfer in the world," Korda said.
She said it calmly and with certainty, or with the kind of attitude that should serve her well in her quest to win $1.5 million.