Nelly Korda powered her way to her first major championship Sunday with a performance worthy of her new status as the No. 1 player in women’s golf.
Korda nearly holed out with a 7-wood from 243 yards for a tap-in eagle, and the 22-year-old American seized control by using her length from that graceful swing for another eagle that sent her to victory in KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“A major championship and No. 1 in the world,” she said. “Is this week even real? It’s amazing.”
She finished with a 15-foot par putt for a 4-under 68, giving her a three-shot victory over Lizette Salas at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
At 19-under 269, she tied the Women’s PGA record to par last matched by Inbee Park at Westchester Country Club in 2015.
As for Hawaii’s Michelle Wie West, she finished play in Georgia with a second consecutive even-par round of 72 to to finish at +2 in a tie for 46th place. The significance of this week’s tournament for the Punahou graduate is that she made her first cut in a major since 2018.
Korda won for the second straight week on the LPGA Tour — her third this year — and it was enough to become the first American at No. 1 in the women’s world ranking since Stacy Lewis in 2014. Jin Young Ko had held the No. 1 spot for nearly two years.
“I put in a lot of work,” Korda said. “To get three wins under my belt and get a major, I don’t even have words.”
Her only mistake came when it didn’t matter.
Korda seized control with an iron into the par-5 12th for the 8-foot eagle putt, a three-shot swing when Salas — who had to lay up on the hole — hit wedge over the green into a bunker and made bogey.
“That was my favorite wedge, too,” Salas said. “The good thing is I was committed to that shot. This wind is pretty swirly. Maybe a little drop-kick, I don’t know. Got a few extra yards out of it.”
Korda made an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to stretch her lead to five shots with four holes to play. She ended 49 consecutive holes without a bogey by hitting into the water on the par-3 15th for a double bogey.
But she steadied herself with a pair of pars and played it conservatively down the par-5 closing hole over water.
Salas closed with a 71 in her bid to win a first major, and her first LPGA Tour title in seven year.
Korda’s older sister, Jessica, was among the first to embrace her on the 18th green as the tears began to below, and before long the newest major champion was doused with champagne.
Jessica Korda finished much earlier — they shared a hug as Nelly was teeing off and Jessica was making the turn — though the older sibling had another reason to celebrate. She easily held down the fourth American spot for the Olympics in Japan.
It was a big celebration for one of the top sporting families in the world. The Korda sisters each have six LPGA victories. Their younger brother, Sebastian, is at Wimbledon this week as the 50th-ranked player in men’s tennis and has a chance to join them in Tokyo for the Olympics.
Their father is Petr Korda, who won the Australian Open in tennis in 1998.
Salas, who felt a burden lifted this week when she opened up about emotional struggles exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, made Korda work for it.
They started the final round tied for the lead, five clear of anyone else, and it was up for grabs until the pivotal 12th hole.
Korda took the lead for good with a birdie on the third hole. Even after he eagle on the fifth, Salas bounced back with a tee shot on the reachable par-4 sixth that set up birdie to close the gap to one shot.
But it all turned so quickly. Salas had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th to tie for the lead. Two holes later, she was four shots behind against a player who was not about to let Salas back in the game.
Korda is the first American to win a major since Angela Stanford three years ago in the Women’s British Open, and it extended a big year for U.S. women’s golf. Americans have won six times on the LPGA Tour this season. South Korea and Thailand each have two.
“She played great, and there’s nothing I could have done differently to change her game plan, and that says a lot about her,” Salas said. “I’m just lucky she’s on the American side for that Solheim Cup.”