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AIG Women’s Open: Nelly Korda lives up to the No 1 billing with a 67 to lead at Carnoustie

Nelly Korda mostly stayed out of the bunkers for her opening 67.
Nelly Korda mostly stayed out of the bunkers for her opening 67.

It takes a special kind of player to live up to the advance billing Nelly Korda was carrying coming into Carnoustie, and the World No 1 showed just how worthy she is in the AIG Women’s Open.

The 23-year-old, winner of the last major championship and the Olympic Gold Medal, polished off a five-under 67 for an immediate share of the lead on the championship course. She birdied both the final two holes, when most of the rest of the field were struggling to stay afloat over Carnoustie’s fearsome final four.

She immediately claimed that she’s still learning this links golf business. It’s going to be interesting to see what she does when she actually gets the hang of it.

The counsel of former Women’s Open champion Karen Stupples – now an analyst for US TV – was what got her in the groove on a dreich but airless, calm morning.

‘I stayed pretty aggressive’

“I stayed pretty aggressive all day because the wind wasn’t too strong,” she said. “Karen was telling me if you’re in those 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, just take that 4-iron and giving yourself another 4-iron in (to the green). 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.”

Links golf is taking time to learn, she said.

“The first year I played Kingsbarns (2017), and I missed the cut there. Then I played Woburn the next year, but that’s not a links style golf course. Last year we played Troon, that was really windy.

“I feel like the more I play links-style golf courses, the more I’m learning about my game here.”

‘I thought it was in the water’

It wasn’t entirely plain sailing – she lofted a pitch when a bump-and-run would have done at 16 to drop a stroke, and she was a little lucky her tee shot on 17 didn’t quite reach the Barry Burn.

“I thought it was in the water, I told my caddie,” 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 like stress-wise, but there’s a little bit more grass there, so it’s not as firm.”

She hit a six-iron in there close for a birdie – the only three at 17 of the morning starters – and then an eight-iron into eight feet at the last.

‘Every day’s a new day’

As for her newly enhanced status, she’s not even slightly concerned by that.

“No, I’m just going on like a little girl playing golf, enjoying myself in this cold weather,” she said. “It’s cold for a Florida girl.

“I try to take the mindset of every day’s a new day. It doesn’t matter what my ranking is. Everyone’s going into this event prepared and wanting to win. That’s kind of like the mindset that I try to take into every event.”

Sagstrom impresses Matthew for a share of the lead

Korda was tied at the lead with Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, who took every opportunity to impress Solheim Cup captain and playing partner Catriona Matthew. The Swede, who played for Europe two editions ago in Iowa, bogeyed the last to miss out on a 66.

“I’m always excited to play with Catriona,” she said. “She’s a great person and a great golfer.

“Of course I also want to show off my game to her. I can’t deny that. I’m playing well at the moment, but who knows where her mind is at right now? I’m just trying to play as well as I can to give myself a chance for that team.”

Carnoustie was uncommonly calm for the first day, but there were still plenty demons around.

US Ryder Cup star Danielle Kang reached the 14th tee at two-under without a bogey on her card.

But she had a triple bogey at the Spectacles 14th, and double at 15, and after a brief rally for a two at the 16th, bogeyed the last two to shed six strokes in five holes.

AIG Women’s Open: Steve Scott’s five to watch at Carnoustie

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