Nelly Korda & Lizette Salas lead by 5 heading into the final round at Atlanta Athletic Club
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has never been a match-play event, but it’s looking like it may come down to a match-play situation heading into the final round at Atlanta Athletic Club.
A pair of Americans, Nelly Korda and Lizette Salas, are tied for the lead at 15-under through 54 holes.
They are five up on chasing pack, led by Celine Boutier, Giulia Molinaro, and major winner Patty Tavatanakit, who are all 10-under and tied for third.
Despite the gap, it is a major championship, however, contested at a tough venue. And with both of the leaders looking for their first major title it’s set up to be an exciting Sunday.
Korda is playing the best golf of, perhaps, anyone on the planet. She comes into this week after winning the Meijer LPGA Classic last week, finishing at 25-under. Salas, meanwhile, has been steady and consistent all week. Her 67 on Saturday was her third-straight round shooting the same score – this, despite the fact that Salas was dozens of yards behind Korda on most tee shots.
“I’m more of a ‘let’s just play boring golf and let’s give ourselves good looks at birdie.’ My hybrid game is pretty good at the moment, and you could look at it that way, like I am applying pressure or something like that, but I’m just sticking to my game plan and what I’m comfortable with,” said Salas. “It’s been resulting quite well.”
With a victory or a solo-second finish, Korda could ascend to No.1 in the world. If she does pull off the victory, she would be the first American to top the Rolex Rankings since 2014.
After going out in 30, and with golf’s magic number not out of the question, Salas cooled off for the final nine holes. She made her first bogey in 63 holes on the par-4 10th at Atlanta Athletic Club and then parred eight holes in a row to finish.
No matter the result this week, Salas said she’ll walk away with a smile on her face.
For the first time she admitted publicly about some mental health struggles she went through in 2020. She said Saturday that her father has a phrase, ‘everything has its moment’ and Salas already had a major moment this week – even if she doesn’t leave with the trophy.
“I think I was meant to go through what I was going through. I think I’ve learned a lot,” said Salas. “Whatever happens tomorrow, I’m just proud of how much I’ve overcome so far, and so we’re just going to take it one shot (at a time) and continue smiling and being myself.”
Whereas Salas, 31, is looking for her second-career LPGA Tour title, Korda is looking for her second LPGA Tour victory in a row.
She is also looking to be the first golfer since Yani Tseng to win the week prior to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and then back up her win with a major triumph. That came in 2011.
Korda matched Salas almost shot for shot early, going 3-under through five holes. She also cooled off on the back nine with just one birdie, on the par-4 13th, and eight pars.
“Lizette was rolling in some nice ones today, and I told myself, ‘I’ve got to hit it close to even keep up with her,’” Korda admitted. “On No. 1 Lizette drained a really long putt and I had a decent look at birdie, and I think when you get into that mindset of kind of egging each other on it’s fun, but it’s also nerve-racking. Your adrenaline definitely gets up there.”
Tavatanakit, who won the ANA Inspiration earlier in the season, shot the round of the day, a 7-under 65. It moved her 16 spots up the leaderboard.
Molinaro was one shot higher than Tavatanakit, but her 6-under 66 gives her the potential now, on Sunday, to notch her best-career major finish. In fact, this is the first time Molinaro has made the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“I feel great. I’ve been played really good,” said Molinaro. “I’ve been really relaxed, surprised myself actually. I played some good golf, hit some good shots, hit some great putts, and just played my game. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Boutier played with Salas and Korda on Saturday. While the pair was trading birdies early, Boutier, who rolled in a closing birdie on 18 to shoot a 3-under 69, said she stayed in her own headspace.
“They both started really good on the first couple of holes, and I didn’t start my best, but I feel like it was a long 18 holes, like a long day. I felt like I just had to focus on myself and my game rather than just what they were doing,” Boutier said. “I think that helped me stay patient and not really get too far ahead of myself because there was a lot of holes left.”
Now, however, there are just 18 holes left in the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“Someone from behind can come and shoot a really low score. You just never know with golf,” said Korda, “and that's the beauty of it.”