SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — A white compression sleeve covers the left arm of Nelly Korda, a conspicuous reminder of the harrowing start to this year for the second-ranked golfer in the world.
So it was with a combination of uncertainty, limited expectations and gratitude that the former world No. 1 for 26 straight weeks, a record for a U.S. female player, arrived at Pine Needles this week seeking her second victory at a major championship.
“I’m out here in the heat competing at the U.S. Women’s Open,” she said, “and a couple of months back I wasn’t sure I was going to be doing that.”
Korda carded a 1-under-par 70 in the third round and briefly got within reach of 54-hole leader Minjee Lee by making a birdie at the par-5 15th hole to get to 7 under for the tournament, but three straight bogeys coming in blunted her charge.
Korda is at 4-under 209 for the tournament and trails Lee by nine strokes.
Still, making it to the weekend was not only a testament to Korda’s resolve after surgery in Florida and weeks of rehabilitation in California. It also ended a disappointing streak of two straight U.S. Women’s Opens in which she missed the cut.
“Definitely not the finish I wanted,” said Korda, who has shot below par in each of her rounds this week. “That was tough. I’m sure that was tough to watch, too, but, yeah, I’m just happy to be out here even though that [finish] was a tough pill to swallow. I still have one more day, and I’m doing what I love.”
As an indication of how grateful she is simply to be playing, Korda even paused during her round when time allowed to sign for the legion of supporters in the galleries who followed her around the 6,638-yard layout hosting the U.S. Women’s Open for a record fourth time.
Korda is playing in her first major championship this year after sitting out of the Chevron Championship, formerly the Inspiration, in early April while recovering from surgery.
“I really, really love when like the little kids and little girls kind of scream my name,” Korda said. “Some of them even ask me for an autograph during the round, and I just can’t say no. I’m just so happy to be out here.”
Ko goes low
The low round of the day belonged to New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who had six birdies en route to a 5-under 66 to move into a tie for fourth place at 6-under 207 in her 11th U.S. Women’s Open appearance.
Ko opened her round with a birdie at the par-5 first and closed with another at the par-4 18th, drawing a rousing ovation when she landed her approach at the final hole inside of two feet.
Ko entered this week seeking her third win at a major championship and first at the U.S. Women’s Open, where the former world No. 1’s best finish is a tie for third in 2016.
“You just never know, right?” said Ko, who became the youngest woman to win a major when in 2015 she prevailed at the Evian Championship at 18 years 4 months 20 days. “There have been some lower scores at this course. I’m just going to focus on my game, just enjoy it. It’s such a great golf course, and it’s a fun course where I think you can be aggressive.”
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