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Korda nails 3rd LPGA title; Saso finishes T13

NELLY Korda kisses the trophy after emerging victorious in the Ford Championship to collect her third consecutive LPGA Tour title. | Christian Petersen/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — World No. 1 Nelly Korda marched to her third victory in three LPGA Tour starts on Sunday, firing seven birdies in a flawless seven-under par 65 to win the Ford Championship in Arizona by two strokes.

Korda became the first LPGA pro to win three consecutive starts since Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016. She’s two shy of matching the LPGA record of five consecutive victories, first accomplished by Nancy Lopez in 1978 and matched by Annika Sorenstam in 2004-05.

Korda’s 20-under par total of 268 at Seville Golf and Country Club in suburban Phoenix gave her a two-shot triumph over Australian rookie Hira Naveed, who had seven birdies in her six-under 66.

“Honestly, it feels like a blur,” Korda said, adding that as the hype over her potential hat trick grew she tried to “stay very present.”

“(I) just played really good golf, solid golf in tough conditions today, which I’m very happy about,” said Korda, who opened her 2024 campaign with a playoff victory in the Drive On Championship in her hometown of Bradenton, Florida, in January.

She skipped the tour’s Asian swing and returned last week to win the Seri Pak Championship in Los Angeles in a playoff, a victory that returned her to the top of the world rankings.

“It’s very hard mentally to be 100 percent, especially after a win, especially playing in tough conditions,” Korda said after an impressive round in cold, rainy weather.

“So as boring as it sounds I was just taking it shot by shot and seeing where I was going to end up.

“To get three in a row, that’s just a dream come true.”

Meanwhile, Philippine-born Yuka Saso of Japan never got into the mix despite trailing the third-round leaders by just one as two early bogeys virtually dropped her out of contention.

Although she hit three birdies to save a 71, the ICTSI-backed campaigner ended up at tied 13th with a 273, five strokes off Korda, extending her winless spell since scoring a major breakthrough in the US Women’s Open in 2021.

Korda started the day two adrift and joined a crowd atop the leaderboard with birdies at the fifth, sixth and ninth.

She rolled in a long birdie putt at the 12th and stuck her approach at the 13th within five feet for a birdie that had her tied at 18-under with Lexi Thompson.

Thompson faltered with bogeys at 16 and 17 while Korda finished strong, giving herself short putts for birdies at 16 and 18.

Naveed, ranked 648th in the world, had four birdies in her last seven holes to seize second on 270.

The 26-year-old, who had to battle to make the cut, called it a “great day.”

“Just fell short, but, again, it’s an experience, so we move on,” she said.

Thompson rebounded from her late bogeys with her sixth birdie of the day at 18, her 68 putting her in a tie for third on 271.

She was joined by Sweden’s Frida Kinhult and Maja Stark, South Korean Lee Mi-hyang and overnight co-leader Carlota Ciganda of Spain — who posted a two-under 70.

The other two 54-hole co-leaders, American Sarah Schmelzel and South Korean Kim Hyo-joo, both shot 71 to finish in a group sharing eighth on 272.

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