Korda has one hand on golf Olympic gold as Ashok leads chasers

Sports Tokyo 2020

USA's Nelly Korda tees off at 13th during Friday's third round at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe. AFP
USA’s Nelly Korda tees off at 13th during Friday’s third round at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe. AFP

Kawagoe, Japan | AFP

by Daniel HICKS

Women’s world number one golfer Nelly Korda has one hand on an Olympic gold medal to add to her maiden major this year after a third-round 69 gave her a three-shot cushion over a chasing pack led by India’s Aditi Ashok.

The American could not repeat her fireworks of Thursday’s round of 62, but is the woman they all have to catch in Saturday’s final round, which will be played earlier than originally scheduled at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

The leaders tee off Saturday’s final round at 8:23 am, hoping to complete the full 72 holes before a tropical storm system arrives later in the day.

Should it be not possible to complete the final round on either Saturday and Sunday then Korda, as the 54-hole leader at 15-under par 198, would be declared the gold medal winner.

Korda, who started the day with a four-stroke cushion, felt it was a day where she had to battle just to keep a lead.

“I didn’t have a really good back nine,” said Korda, who won her first major at the Women’s PGA Championship in June.

“I was kind of spraying it all over the place, I had some testy par putts, but made all pars and I fought really hard to stay in it.”

Ashok put women’s golf on the map in India five years ago when, at the age of 18 and fresh out of school, she opened with two 68s at the Rio Olympics to threaten the lead.

Now the 23-year-old, with her mum caddying this week, goes into the final round in the silver medal slot on 12-under 201, two shots clear of four players tied for third, headed by the Rio 2016 silver medallist Lydia Ko of New Zealand.

Ashok, already one of the shorter drivers on the LPGA Tour, admitted she had lost more distance since suffering from Covid in May and June.

Aditi Ashok is in silver medal position for India. AFP
Aditi Ashok is in silver medal position for India. AFP

Ashok’s Covid woe

“I do think it took a little bit of strength out of me,” said Ashok, the world number 200. “I was never this short. I was always short but not like 50 (yards) behind Nelly (Korda) and 50 behind Nanna (Koerstz Madsen).”

Ko played herself into podium contention with a sparkling 66 containing five birdies and no dropped shots to get to 10-under par and a four-way share of third.

It was one of the rounds of a day when nobody managed to go really low, unlike Thursday when there were a series of cards in the low 60s.

Though she is five shots behind Korda, Ko said anything could happen in round four where she will play in the final grouping.

“That’s the crazy thing about golf, you never know until that last putt drops on the last hole,” said Ko.

“So I just think that you can never give up. I think it doesn’t matter how many shots back you are. Rory Sabbatini shot 10-under on the last day last week to become the silver medallist.”

Alongside Ko is Japan’s Mone Inami, who is fuelling hopes of a medal for the golf-mad host nation after Hideki Matsuyama missed out on a men’s bronze in a playoff.

“It really hasn’t settled in that I’m contending in the Olympics,” said Inami after a round of three-under 68. “It feels like a dream stage.”

Alongside her at 10-under 203 was Hannah Green of Australia who followed up Thursday’s 65 with a 67, and Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark who carded a 70. 

The gold medallist from Rio, Park In-bee of South Korea, seems out of the medal hunt after a level-par 71 left her on three-under par.

But Feng Shanshan of China, who took bronze five years ago, followed her 64 on Thursday with a 68 to get to seven-under and a sniff of another podium.

“This is the Olympics, fourth or fifth it doesn’t matter,” said Feng. “Everybody’s going to try to go low tomorrow and somebody will. Hopefully that will be me.”

New Zealand's Lydia Ko played herself into podium contention with a sparkling 66. AFP
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko played herself into podium contention with a sparkling 66. AFP

Japan's Mone Inami is fuelling hopes of a medal for the golf-mad host nation. AFP
Japan’s Mone Inami is fuelling hopes of a medal for the golf-mad host nation. AFP

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Tokyo 2020 AFP