KAWAGOE, Japan — For the second consecutive Olympics, Lydia Ko used a clutch third round to vault herself into medal contention in the women’s golf tournament.
The trouble for her and everyone else is that Team USA’s Nelly Korda started the day with a substantial lead and hardly gave any ground.
Korda shot a 2-under-par 69, much tamer than the Olympic-record 62 she shot the previous day at Kasumigaseki Country Club, to move to 15-under and three shots ahead of India’s Aditi Ashok (12-under).
Ko and three other golfers are tied for third at 10-under, with Ko shooting a 66 on Friday, the second-lowest score of the day and the best of anyone near the top of the leaderboard. Five years earlier in Rio, Ko used a third-round 65 to move into second place. The New Zealand golfer went on to win silver.
She’s hoping to follow a similar blueprint in Japan – and is hoping they’ll be able to play a final round at all. Tournament officials decided that with a pending storm expected to hit the area, players will tee off holes 1 and 10 in groups of three beginning at 6:30 a.m. local time. The leaders group of Korda, Ashok and Ko will begin at 8:18 a.m.
“To me, outside of where I am today, I’m just more of having fingers, toes and everything crossed to say that the weather gods will allow us to play tomorrow,” Ko said. “I feel like the Olympics themselves has gone through so much, and Tokyo’s gone through so much to host us to have the Olympics on. For it to be cut short, I feel like it would sum up the whole situation.”
Another chance to be at the podium would mean a lot to her.
“Because I’m not just playing for myself I’m playing for my country,” she said. “And even though I do that on a daily basis, it’s a very different feel. So I would love to play.”
While there was the chance the tournament could be called after Friday, or that the final round would be delayed until Sunday, Korda said after the round that her mindset is for 72 holes. She bogeyed the par-5 eighth and then parred the final 10 holes, battling down the stretch.
“I think I just kind of got a little sloppy,” the 2021 LPGA Championship winner said.
As the leader for two full days, Korda has been careful not to look ahead to any medal ceremony, the same way fellow American Xander Schauffele steeled and steadied his way to gold five days ago at the same course.
“You got to take a step back and remember, ‘There’s still 18 more holes.’ There’s still a lot that can happen out there,” she said. “Today I wasn’t hitting it well. If I wasn’t hitting it well, tomorrow could be different. You never know. I try to remind myself. I quickly shake my head. I’m like, ‘No no, I’m not there yet. Still got a long way to go.’ ”
Korda said she’s been calm over the last three days. The nerves haven’t bitten much, although the 18th hole presented some challenges. Her approach went long over the green into the rough and the ball landed on top of the wire. She consulted a rules official before moving the wire out from underneath.
Four practice swings later, she chipped to within three feet and saved par.
She would have liked to expand her lead, but the 23-year-old doesn’t mind the pressure, either.
“That’s kind of the goal going into every round, is to play the best I possibly can and get a comfortable lead,” Korda said. “But that’s the thing about golf. Once you get a little too comfortable, it’s one of those things where it’s easy to get ahead of yourself.”
Nelly Korda tees off on the fourth hole during the third round.
As Korda battled, Ashok hung around and birdied twice in the final four holes to create some distance from the pack sitting at 10-under.
“She’s a sneaky player,” Korda said. “She putts incredibly well.”
Ashok steps onto the green with “swag,” Korda said.
“She owns it,” the leader added.
After ending her second round with two bogeys – there may have been some “f-bombs” dropped on Thursday, she joked – Ko played bogey-free golf and birdied four times on the back-nine.
Cursing herself one day, on the cusp of a medal the next.
“That’s the crazy thing about golf,” Ko said. “You never know until that last putt drops in the last hole.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/08/06/olympics-golf-nelly-korda-lydia-ko/