Women's Olympics preview: Korda leads Team USA

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What looks like a great event on paper should be an even more terrific tournament in reality when the women’s Olympic golf competition kicks off Wednesday in Tokyo (Tuesday night in the U.S.). World No. 1 Nelly Korda leads an all-star American foursome against an elite field of 60 players that includes the top 14 players on the Rolex Rankings and features a power-packed Korean team that boasts four of the top six players in the world, headlined by 2016 gold medalist and world No. 3 Inbee Park.

Hot on the heels of dramatic men’s competition that saw a poignant performance by Team USA’s Xander Schauffele winning gold, the oldest player in the field – 45-year-old Rory Sabbatini – capturing silver, and an epic seven-way playoff for bronze, won by Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, players from 35 countries will tee it up this week at Kasumigaseki Golf Club, located approximately 25 miles northwest of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Korda, the betting favorite at +675 via PointBet Sportsbook, will have to contend with all three medalists from 2016 including Park, listed at +1000, New Zealand’s silver medalist and world No. 11 Lydia Ko (+1500) and China’s bronze medalist and world No. 20 Shanshan Feng (+2200). The 23-year-old Korda, a six-time LPGA winner, broke through for her first major title in June at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and most recently finished T-19 at the Evian Championship, the tour’s fourth of five majors.

“I mean it's super cool -- a little tiring, but there's no experience like representing Team USA,” said Korda regarding the relentless pace of this year’s schedule, which she’s been able to share with her No. 14-ranked sister, Jessica (+2500), who also is playing for Team USA in Tokyo. “It's been really cool. Honestly, we went from France to Tokyo and then we're going to go straight to pretty much to the (AIG Women’s British Open). Then we're going to be home and then represent USA again at Solheim. So, it's a long stretch, but we can't wait, it's going to be a lot of fun and I'm already excited to get the week going.”

While Park has maintained a similar clip coming into Tokyo, the 33-year-old said she feels significantly less pressure coming into this week than she did in 2016, when she faced intense scrutiny due to a lingering thumb injury while also representing a nation eager to capture a medal in women’s golf in its first event appearance in an Olympics since 1900.

“I mean, 2016 was by far most pressure-filled I've ever felt in my life,” said Park, a 21-time LPGA winner who most recently won in March at the Kia Classic. “I don't know if I could do that once again. So if I felt it once again this year, I don't think I would be able to play.

“It is definitely much better and much more relaxing this year because of my condition, my conditions are not as bad as in 2016 where I had to deal with the injury, where I had to deal with a lot of pressure, but this year is a bit different, a little bit. Obviously, the atmosphere is a little bit different, we don't have much spectators or anything like that and just, I have no injury this year and I have been playing the season well. So it's a little bit different to 2016, but the same result would be nice, right?”

Odds to win women’s Olympic golf competition (via PointsBet Sportsbook):

+675: Nelly Korda
+850: Jin Young Ko
+1000: In-Bee Park
+1200: Hyo Joo Kim, Sei Young Kim
+1400: Danielle Kang, Ariya Jutanugarn
+1500: Lydia Ko
+1800: Patty Tavatanakit, Nasa Hataoka
+2000: Minjee Lee, Lexi Thompson
+2200: Shanshan Feng, Brooke Henderson, Leona Maguire, Yuka Saso
+2500: Hannah Green, Jessica Korda

Looking for a similar result – and perhaps a perfect backdrop for her swansong -- is 2016 bronze medalist Feng, who hinted again on Monday that retirement could be in the immediate future.

“Well because we were supposed to play a year ago and they pushed the date later, I mean it did change my plan, because I was thinking about maybe last year would be my, maybe my last year, and then after the Olympics maybe I would think about to retire or do something else,” explained the 10-time LPGA winner. “But I just had to wait for one more year, so, yeah, it was a tough decision because I'm already 32, I'm not 18 anymore, so that one year really makes a difference on the body. … I'm pretty sure this is my last Olympic games, though. So, yeah, well, yeah, this is. I don't think I will play in another Olympic games, so I better enjoy it.”

The East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Saitama, will host the 72-hole stroke-play competition that begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET. The club dates back to 1929 and has two golf courses -- an East and West course – which have hosted the Japan Open four times, the Japan Amateur twice, a Japan Women’s Open and the Canada Cup (now the World Cup of Golf).

The East Course, redesigned by Tom and Logan Fazio in 2016 in preparation for the Games, will play at 6,648 yards for the women, approximately 800 yards shorter than the men’s setup. That means both length and driving accuracy will be at a premium, which bodes well for the Korean and American teams. Korea’s Park ranks 10th in driving accuracy while teammate and world No. 2 Jin Young Ko (+850) is 12th. In driving distance, American and world No. 12 Lexi Thompson (+2000), who along with teammate Danielle Kang (+1400) skipped the Evian to prepare for the Games, ranks fourth at 278.832, Jessica Korda is seventh at 275.170 and Nelly Korda is 10th at 273.783.

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Picks:

To win: It’s hard to pass over Nelly Korda (+675), who earned her place as the betting favorite thanks to a blistering 2021 season that includes three wins (Gainbridge LPGA, Meijer LPGA Classic, KPMG Women’s PGA), her first major championship title (KPMG) and three other podium finishes. Her stats back her up as well: She ranks first in scoring average (68.89), rounds under par (38), eagles (10) and rounds in the 60s (28), and she’s top 20 in relevant categories of driving distance (10th at 273.78), greens in regulation (16th at 75 percent), putts per GIR (13th at 1.76) and putting average (19th at 29.35). Korda also ranks second in birdies (214) and sub-par holes (224).

Best bet: Minjee Lee (+2000). The Australian world No. 8 arrives in Tokyo with momentum on her side after capturing her first career major title at the Evian Championship. Starting the final round seven strokes back after 54 holes, the 25-year-old Lee birdied four of her last five holes en route to a final-round 64 and beat Jeongeun Lee6 in a playoff after they tied at 18-under 266 in regulation. On the season, she’s got three other top-five finishes and has missed just one cut in 12 starts. Lee also has Olympic experience on her side: In 2016, she was in medal contention through two rounds in Rio before a third-round 73 dropped her back. Lee finished T-7, two strokes back of bronze medalist Feng.

Long shot: Gaby Lopez (+5000). Still riding high from her turn as flag bearer for Mexico in the Opening Ceremony and well-rested thanks to her early arrival in Tokyo, it seems smart to put stock in the 27-year-old, two-time LPGA winner. While it’s been more than a year since her last victory at the 2020 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Lopez ranks 12th in average driving distance (272.63) and has three top 10s on the season. “It's the biggest honor every single time you get to represent your country, to play for the sport you love and play for the people, something way bigger than yourself, but being actually carrying the flag for the Olympics at the opening ceremony was just a dream come true,” said Lopez on Monday. “It taught me a big lesson that I was probably not mentally prepared to face it, which it was self-validation and how much it means to me to be able to accept where I am and know that that spot -- I earned it through hard work, and being able to be good to myself has been huge.”

How to watch:

Tune in to watch the Olympic women’s golf competition Tuesday through Friday, Aug. 3-6, on Golf Channel from 6:30 p.m.-3 a.m. ET. (Golf Channel will extend broadcast time by 30 minutes – to 3:30 a.m. -- in the final round for the medal ceremony.)

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