For Nelly Korda, this could be the start of a special year

Nelly Korda finally gave herself a break from the high stress, thrill-a-minute golf that has produced the best start on the LPGA in more than a decade and returned the 25-year-old American to No. 1 in the world.

All she had to do for her third straight win — the longest streak on the LPGA since 2016 — was overcome a two-shot deficit, navigate through 15 players who began the final round within two shots of the lead and play bogey-free in the rain for a 7-under 65.

It doesn't sound easy. Korda just made it look that way.

“I think it was definitely one of my least stressful wins,” Korda said after her two-shot victory in the Ford Championship outside of Phoenix.

Considering the previous two victories, she's right.

Korda won in blustery Florida conditions in late January by going bogey-double bogey-bogey to give up the lead, answering with an eagle-birdie finish and beating Lydia Ko in a playoff. Two weeks ago in cold, windy, miserable conditions along the California coast, Korda finished bogey-bogey, let off some steam and then won a playoff with a 10-foot birdie putt.

This latest win, her 11th career LPGA title, looked easy enough that her swing coach, Jamie Mulligan, suggested it was “the most Tiger-like victory she's had.”

This wasn't a direct comparison with Tiger Woods, only the manner in which he plays.

“That's what it looked like when he won. It looked like he played better than everyone else,” Mulligan said. “Down the stretch she made zero mistakes and capitalized with good shots on the harder holes. So even though she only won by a couple of shots, it was dominant the way she controlled it.”

One example was the 300-yard 16th hole. Korda, tied for the lead, decided when she reached the tee to lay up with a 7-wood instead of trying to drive the green. She hit a controlled pitching wedge from 108 yards that danced around the cup and set up a short birdie for her first lead of the day. It all felt so inevitable.

Korda wasn't the only world No. 1 going for a third straight victory with the start of the major championship season around the corner.

Scottie Scheffler was in a fight that featured a half-dozen players over the final nine holes at the Houston Open. He nearly pulled it off until he misread a 5-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Stephan Jaeger.

Next up for Scheffler is the Masters, where he is the biggest betting favorite since Woods in 2013.

And next for Korda?

“A beautiful, five-hour drive to Vegas,” she said Sunday night, thinking more about an almond croissant she had saved for the drive than her latest feats. She is the first LPGA player since Ariya Jutanugarn in May 2016 to win three straight starts, and the first since Yani Tseng in 2012 to have three wins before April 1. No joke.

Dominance is not always about numbers.

Steve Williams, the longtime caddie for Woods, always thought his best golf was not necessarily the 2000 season when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 shots, the British Open by eight and Firestone by 11 (in the dark, no less). It was the mid-2000s when Woods was so efficient he looked to be on cruise control, and no one had much of a chance.

Woods won seven straight on the PGA Tour from the middle of 2006 to the start of 2007, and just two of those wins were by five shots or more. It's far too early to contemplate what Korda is capable of doing. Her swing is as fine as any in golf, so effortless and athletic. She putts like she has no pulse.

“She might have the best motion in the game,” Mulligan said. “She's an athlete making a hard game look easy.”

And she is healthy, which cannot be overstated. Coming off a banner 2021 in which Korda won her first major and an Olympic gold medal, she had a blood clot in her left arm that required surgery and derailed much of her 2022 season. She miss a month in 2023 with back pain and went winless on the LPGA, unable to get any momentum.

She has loads of it now, not just because of how she is playing but her decision not to play.

Korda decided to skip the Asia swing on the LPGA, meaning seven weeks away. She went to Prague for a vacation. She spent time with family and she spent time in the gym, making fitness a priority.

“I enjoyed life outside of golf a little. Just disconnected,” Korda said. “To me, that was just like the perfect reset going into this busy schedule.”

Korda goes for No. 4 in a row this week in the T-Mobile Match Play at Shadow Creek, a course she has never seen. Another win would give her the longest winning streak on the LPGA since Lorena Ochoa won four in a row in 2008.

Ochoa was simply dynamic. She won five out of six times to start the 2008 season by a combined 37 shots. The previous year, she won eight times by 23 shots.

Korda has made it far too exciting for her tastes. “Normal Nelly things,” she likes to call it. Right now that means winning, and it's hard not to imagine her starting to soar.

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