Nelly Korda, boosted by an apple, trails by two at LPGA’s Chevron Championship after late birdie run

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — If Nelly Korda goes on to win her fifth consecutive title this week at the Chevron Championship – joining Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam as the only players to achieve the feat – she might look back on an apple, of all things, as a key to her success.

The World No. 1 admitted to nerves at the start of Thursday’s round, which saw defending champion Lilia Vu bow out with injury before she even made it to the first tee. Vu, who was in Korda’s group for the first two rounds, was replaced in the field by Jennifer Song.

Running on what she estimates to be a 70 percent battery, Korda hit a couple loose drives early on that added up to a bogey on the first hole and a shaky start. But an apple on No. 14 gave her the boost needed to notch her first birdie and settle into the day.

Five birdies later, including four on the last six holes, added up to a 4-under 68, the low round of a difficult afternoon wave.

Chevron: Photos

“Maybe I should have apples more often,” said Korda, who said she played “free golf” once she made the turn.

2024 Chevron Championship

Nelly Korda (USA) walks up to the 17th tee during the first round of The Chevron Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The 12-time winner sits two shots back of Lauren Coughlin, a 31-year-old American looking for her first title who’s riding a wave of confidence after a putter change and a switch to her husband on the bag.

Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis, a two-time major champion who grew up in The Woodlands and, like Coughlin, is staying at her parents’ house this week, finished up two groups ahead of Korda and said the wind really started to pick up as she was warming up on the range.

The morning wave posted 21 rounds under par compared to nine in the afternoon. The afternoon scoring average of 74.18 was 1.24 strokes higher than the first wave.

“I think anything under par this afternoon is a really good score,” said Lewis of the firmer conditions. “But it’s a major championship, that’s what it should be. Nothing Nelly does surprises me.”

Rookie Gabriela Ruffels carded the second-best round of the afternoon wave, a 69, on her 24th birthday. Ruffels’ parents, like Korda’s, are former tennis pros. Ruffels tied for third at the Fir Hills Se Ri Pak Championship last month to go along with two additional top-15 finishes.

While this marks Ruffels’ debut at the Club at Carlton Woods, she played in three Chevron Championships at Mission Hills and finished in the top 25 in each appearance.

Former No. 1 Lydia Ko, who needs only one more victory to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame, sits tied with Ruffels and three others at 3 under in a share of fifth. The Kiwi played in the morning wave.

Golf’s leading stats man, Justin Ray, noted that 37 of the last 40 LPGA major winners have been at or within four strokes of the lead after the first round.

Korda said at the start of the week, she was dead when she got back home from Las Vegas, where she won for a third straight week on tour at the T-Mobile Match Play in brutally tough conditions. Korda didn’t leave her house for two days, which was especially sweet given that older sister Jessica came to visit with her infant son Greyson. Aunt Nelly and Greyson enjoyed naps together.

A Whoop ambassador, Korda keeps track of her sleep and tries to get to bed by 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. no matter what or when she’s competing. Recovery, she said, is vital.

After winning her second start of the season in a playoff over Lydia Ko in her hometown of Bradenton, Florida, at the Drive On Championship, Korda took seven weeks off. A refreshed Korda returned to the tour in California and won her second title of the season in another playoff.  After capturing her third title in three weeks, she had barely unpacked her bags in Florida before it felt like it was time to hit the road for the season’s first major.

“I think those three weeks, I didn’t think that it was going to drain me as much as it did maybe mentally,” she said.

With three testing rounds left on her march toward history, caddie Jason McDede, known for saying the right thing at the right time, might want to throw a couple more apples in the bag.

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