RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The numbers suggested a stress-free time in the desert for Nelly Korda, who had five birdies and a clean card for a 5-under 67 to build an early two-shot lead Friday in the ANA Inspiration.
All she could think about were two pars.
The only fairway she missed was on her 11th hole, the par-5 second, and she was badly out of position the entire hole until making an 18-foot par putt to escape her big mess. One hole later, after hitting a fat shot from the fairway, she again had to make a par putt from some 25 feet.
“I did not know what I was doing on those two holes,” Korda said. “I was happy those two went in. Golf is just all about momentum, so you roll one in here and there and it just makes it a lot easier.”
It only figures to get harder from here.
Korda was at 11-under 133, two shots clear of Mirim Lee, who also played bogey-free in the rising heat for a 65. Among those playing in the afternoon was Danielle Kang, a two-time winner since the restart who is projected to reach No. 1 in the world with a victory in this tradition-rich major. Kang opened with a 68 on Thursday.
Korda presents an intimidating target, however, especially with how cleanly she has been hitting the ball. She hit 13 fairways, not the most difficult task with the lush Bermuda grass cutting back how much the ball rolls. More impressive was missing only four greens, and taking 26 putts on greens already sun-baked and fast.
“Definitely very happy with my putting today, and I was superbly happy with bogey-free,” she said.
If the lead holds, it would be the first time she takes a 36-hole lead into the weekend at a major. Thursday was her first time leading a major — she opened with a 65 — and even at 22, she is savvy enough to realize that it really doesn’t matter until Sunday.
Lee beat her career-low at Mission Hills by four shots in her seventh appearance at this major.
“I didn’t miss a lot of shots, so I look forward to the next couple rounds,” Lee said.
Nanna Koerstz Madsen, with another bogey-free card, shot 69 and was four shots behind.
Korda picked up two birdies on the par 3s on the back nine and looked like she might give those shots back when she tugged her tee shot on No. 2. She considered taking a drop from the cart path until realizing she would be thick rough, so she hit 4-hybrid some 30 yards out to the right, leaving her no angle.
“Near dead over there,” she said. “Honestly, I was super happy with rolling that putt in. I was like, ‘Just get me off this hole.”
The greens were pure in the morning, though getting the speed right was critical because they are rolling out a few extra feet, putting an even greater premium on pace.
“The thing out here is you hit a solid putt and it keeps on going,” Korda said. “You think it’s going to stop, and it just keeps on releasing, so then you’re like, `This is a good putt, this could possibly go in,’ and then it releases 5 to 6 feet because that’s just how it is out here. I had a lot of 5- and 6-footers for par today.”
And she made them all. That decision to change to a left-hand low grip at the Women’s Britsh Open three weeks ago at Royal Troon looks like the right move. And her confidence is soaring.