AIG Women's Open: World No 1 Nelly Korda lives up to her billing

World No 1 Nelly Korda in action durng the first round of the AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie. Picture: Tristan JonesWorld No 1 Nelly Korda in action durng the first round of the AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie. Picture: Tristan Jones
World No 1 Nelly Korda in action durng the first round of the AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie. Picture: Tristan Jones
Nelly Korda says she still feels “like a little girl playing golf”, but, on the evidence of her opening salvo in the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, the American is becoming the sport’s new ‘Wonder Woman’.

Living up to her billing as the world No 1 and Olympic champion, Korda opened with a five-under-par 67, finishing birdie-birdie in the process. She is now 87-under for her last 21 rounds, having landed a breakthrough major win in the Women’s PGA Championship in that low-scoring spree.

Admittedly in benign conditions and also helped by the fact the greens had been softened by early-morning rain, it was an impressive day’s work by the 23-year-old Floridian as she set the pace with Swede Madelene Sagstrom and Korea’s Sei Young Kim.

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“It was really chilly this morning, but the wind wasn't too strong, so I stayed pretty aggressive all day, and I took advantage of my opportunities,” said Korda of an effort that contained eight birdies, four on each nine.

The finish was tasty, hitting her approaches to six feet and eight feet to set up those closing back-to-back gains, admitting that she had been a touch fortunate with her tee shot at the 17th.

“I told my caddie, ‘that's in the water’,” she said. “I was like ‘great’. So I was very relieved when it was just in front. It's definitely not the place to be stress-wise, but there's a little bit more grass there, so it's not as firm.

“I just had a 6-iron in. I don't know the exact yardage, but I hit it really well. The last hole, I was between an 8- and a 7-iron into the wind, and I just told myself, since I was hitting it well, to stay aggressive, and I hit a little pin shot into eight feet.”

Despite her recent run, Korda, who is making her fifth appearance in this event, having tied for 14th at Royal Troon last year, insists she’s going out with the mindset of “every day being a new day”.

That’s working a treat and taming Carnoustie at the first attempt came on the back of her getting some advice from England’s Karen Stupplies, the 2002 Women’s Open winner who now works in golf broadcasting in the US, earlier in the week.

Referring to having come across Stupples as she walked the course on Wednesday with other members of the Golf Channel crew, Korda said: “She was telling me that if you're in the bunkers in the fairways, it's very penalizing.

“Today was fine because it wasn't so windy, so you can be aggressive, but, when the wind gets stronger, it’s better taking a 4-iron off a tee and giving yourself another 4-iron in because it's easier to make an up-and-down from the green than to pitch out from the bunker and then having 170 in again. That's kind of what she (Stupples) told me, and it is so true.”

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Korda had raised some eyebrows when she decided not to do a pre-event interview, as would normally be the case with the world No 1 an event like this, with even more interest in her this week on the back of claiming the gold medal in Japan earlier in the month.

“No, I've had a long couple weeks,” she said in reply to being asked if that had been down to a psychological play. “It was the day of my pro-am, and I was just really tired. I wasn't really hitting it well, and tried to just go to the range and tried to prepare for the next four days. Sometimes you've got to give your body a break.”

So no sense of her trying to play down all the noise and expectation around her? “Obviously, there's expectations, but you just try to settle down and keep your head down and go with the flow.”

Does she feel a difference out there now being a major champion and an Olympic champion? ”No, I'm just going on like a little girl playing golf, enjoying myself in this cold weather,” she replied to that, laughing, before pointing out that it was certainly relative after her last outing had been in searing heat in Japan and she’s from Florida.

Sagstrom produced her equally-impressive start in the company of Catriona Matthew, who will announce her Solheim Cup side on Monday. “Of course I want to show off my game to her,” said Sagstrom after signing for seven birdies.

Scottish amateur Louise Duncan sits in a group on four-under along with 2018 winner Georgia Hall, US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso and American Andrea Lee.

On a tightly-packed leaderboard Lexi Thompson is handily-placed on 69, with a group on 70 including the 2019 champion, Hinako Shibuno.

Defending champion Sophia Popov had to settle for a 72 after running up a double-bogey 6 at the 10th, with Charley Hull among those facing a fight to make the cut after starting 6-5 in her 77.

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