KPMG preview: Korda sisters chase first major

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The LPGA is back in the spotlight this week with its third major of the season – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – and all eyes are on sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda as the Nos. 3 and 13 ranked players, respectively, each look to capture their first major title at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Also in the spotlight is betting favorite and three-time champion Inbee Park, who is listed at +1200 by PointsBet Sportsbook. Park, who won back-to-back-to-back titles from 2013-15 and is making her 15th start, currently sits No. 2 in the world rankings and recently added the Kia Classic to her resume in March for her 21st career LPGA victory. At 32, Park admits it’s getting tougher to win a major but told media on Tuesday she found inspiration in PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson.

“When Phil Mickelson wins at his age, and I think when you play someone -- you see someone play like that, it's always a great thing to watch, it's like magic,” said Park, who finished runner up in 2020. “It definitely gives you a lot more courage to go out and play well. So, yeah, I'm really excited for the week.”

Odds to win KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (via PointsBet):

+1200: Inbee Park
+1300: Nelly Korda
+1500: Jin Young Ko
+1600: So Yeon Ryu
+1800: Sei Young Kim
+2000: Ariya Jutanugarn
+2200: Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang
+2500: Shanshan Feng, Jessica Korda, Lydia Ko, Hyo Joo Kim, Brooke Henderson

This year marks the 67th edition of the KPMG and is the sixth consecutive year that the tournament is held at a venue that previously hosted a men’s major (others include Aronimink GC, Hazeltine National GC, Kemper Lakes GC, Olympia Fields CC and Sahalee CC). In addition to the 1976 U.S. Open, the Atlantic Athletic Club hosted the PGA Championship in 1981, 2001 and 2011, and the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open (played on the Riverside Course and won by Betsy King).

Younger sister Nelly, 22, arrives in Johns Creek, Ga., off her second win of the season and fifth of her career at last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic. She shot a career-best 62 in the third round to take the lead and finished at 25-under 263 to beat Leona Maguire by two strokes to set the tournament record at Blythefield Country Club. Korda led by three entering Sunday and eagled the par-5 14th and had six birdies including one at the last.

“To be honest, I try to approach every tournament the same,” said Nelly, who leads the CME Group standings (2,063 points) and money list ($1,118,930), and also is the only two-time winner to date this season after winning the Gainbridge LPGA in February. “A lot of people get wrapped up in its major week, and they put so much pressure and emphasis on it being major week instead of just enjoying the week. I missed the cut at the U.S. Open two years in a row now, and just trying to enjoy the moment and just to have fun and approach it like every other week, I think is a new mindset I'm going to try to rely on, I guess.”

Recent KPMG Women’s PGA champions

2020: Sei Young Kim, 266 (-14)
2019: Hannah Green, 279 (-9)
2018: Sung Hyun Park, 278 (-10); defeated So Yeon Ryu with birdie on the second playoff hole, Nasa Hataoka eliminated with par on the first playoff hole
2017: Danielle Kang, 271 (-13)
2016: Brooke Henderson, 278 (-6); defeated Lydia Ko with birdie on the first playoff hole

Big sister Jessica, 28, has six titles on her resume including a victory at the opening event of the season at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January.

“Stars align,” Jessica said Tuesday regarding the key to winning a major. “It's so hard to win out here. You look at it week to week, the scores are so low. The battles, there's battles, it's not like it's a clear win ever. You've got to make the key putts, and obviously a sprinkle of luck always helps.”

Jessica has seven top 10s in majors, including a T-4 in the 2018 Women’s PGA. This year, she was T-36 in the ANA Inspiration and T-30 in the U.S. Women’s Open. This marks her 11th start at the KPMG, and she’s made seven cuts with a best finish of T-4 in 2018 for her only top 10.

Not only have both won this season, but also Nelly is first and Jessica is fifth in Race to the CME Globe Points, Solheim Cup points and Rolex Player of the Year points. In scoring average, Nelly is first at 69.026 and Jessica is third with 69.500. In driving distance, which will be at a premium at the 6,740-yard Atlanta Athletic Club, Jessica is No. 9 at 275.4 yards and Nelly is No. 10 at 274.1 yards.

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Kim set for title defense

Last year, Sei Young Kim defeated Inbee Park by five strokes at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., for her 11th career LPGA title and first major championship victory. Kim entered the final round with a two-stroke lead, and she birdied four of her last six holes to close with a championship record-tying round of 63 and a record 72-hole score of 266. Kim is trying to become the sixth player to win in consecutive years along with Mickey Wright (1960-61), Patty Sheehan (1983-84), Juli Inkster (1999-2000), Annika Sorenstam (2003-04-05), and Inbee Park (2013-14-15).

Time running out for bid to Tokyo

The week marks the final opportunity for Americans to improve their positions on the Olympic Women’s Golf Rankings. The four-person U.S. women’s team for the 2020 Tokyo Games will be finalized based on the Rolex Rankings published following this week’s results.
At No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, Nelly Korda leads the Americans, followed by Danielle Kang, currently No. 6, and Lexi Thompson at No. 7. At No. 13, Jessica Korda sits just inside the critical top-15 cut-off point, but three notable players -- Ally Ewing, Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst -- lurk just outside the top 15 and could earn a spot on Team USA with a good showing this week.

Picks:

To win: Coming in off her record performance last week in Michigan, Nelly Korda is listed as +1300 and is poised to break through for her first major championship title. This week marks her fifth start at the KPMG and she’s made three cuts with a best finish of T-3 in 2019. Last year, Korda withdrew after one round with a back injury. Although she missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, she’s been trending in the right direction in majors: Of note, she was T-3 at the ANA in April and T-2 there last year, losing in a playoff. She also finished T-9 in the 2019 AIG Women’s Open and T-10 in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.

Can’t count out…: Brooke Henderson (+2500). The 23-year-old Canadian is making her seventh start in the KPMG, which she won in 2016. She’s never missed a cut in six appearances and has five top-10s including a solo sixth last year at Aronimink. What’s more, it was confirmed Wednesday that Henderson will have big sister Brittany back on the bag this week after a quick turnaround to get a new employment card for the Canadian native. Brittany’s work visa expired June 15 and she was not on the bag for the first time since February 2016 at last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic, where Henderson shot 75-67 and missed the cut.

Long shot: At +6000, U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso is playing the Women’s PGA for the first time, but it will mark her fifth career start in a major. Saso celebrated her 20th birthday on Sunday, just two weeks after winning her first major as a 19-year-old, and currently she sits ninth in the Rolex world rankings. Saso didn’t play last week in Grand Rapids, but she arrives in Georgia off the high of meeting Phil Mickelson and getting advice from her idol and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy at last week’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. “I'll keep it secret,” she said when asked what tips he shared. “But I walked with him for three holes and videoed his swing, my own video. That was very nice.”

How to watch:

Tune into watch the 67th KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, June 24-27, on Golf Channel and NBC, as well as live streaming on Peacock (all times Eastern):

Thursday: 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., Golf Channel; 5-7 p.m., Peacock
Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Golf Channel; 5-7 p.m., Peacock
Saturday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Peacock; 1-4 p.m., NBC
Sunday: 12-3 p.m., Peacock; 3-6 p.m., NBC

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