JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – Lizette Salas didn’t even know she’d shot 30 on the top nine until she signed her scorecard. It wasn’t long ago that she was bothered by the sound of people shouting their names on a golf course. As she rolled over 30 yards of birdie putts at the KPMG Women’s PGA on Saturday – six in the first eight holes – Salas heard her name ring through the Georgia pine trees and thought it was beautiful.
“I hugged it,” said Salas. “I greeted some fans and just enjoyed the moment. It’s been a while since I’ve done this. “
The final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA will be a real head-turner. Nelly Korda, who is tied with Salas at 15 under and 54 holes on the Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course, has the chance to rise to number 1 in the world and take her first major title Slim Frame. Stacy Lewis was the last American to rank # 1 in 2014. Angela Stanford was the last American to lift a trophy in 2018.
Korda and Salas are five ahead of the rest of the field, while Patty Tavatanakit, Giulia Molinaro and Celine Boutier are in third place with 10 less. Korda has five LPGA titles; Salas’ only victory came in 2014.
Rookie Tavatanakit, the wire-to-wire winner at ANA Inspiration, carded the low round of the day, 65, to insert her name as the greatest threat to the final pairing.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said, “I want to hunt more than just being in the lead because I like the feeling of just hunting. I have something that I can look forward to or just look up to all the time. “
Recall that Lexi Thompson was five strokes ahead of the final nine in the US Women’s Open earlier this month and didn’t even make the playoffs. At the PGA Championship 2011 at the Atlanta Athletic Club Jason Dufner had a lead of five strokes on the 15th tee and finally lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
“The second nine will forgive you,” said veteran caddy John Killeen, who reunited with Salas earlier this year.
It’s been a stellar year for American golf, with five LPGA titles so far this season, and it looks like four Americans are heading to the Tokyo Olympics. The Kordas claim three of these five titles and are likely to claim two of the Olympic places.
But it’s the majors that define greatness. These are the moments that burn into the minds of the fans, inspire the next generation and add value to the tour.
These are the moments when stars are born.
Last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic winner Nelly Korda birdieed the first two holes on Saturday to continue her streak of back-to-back birdies to eight – the most in LPGA history – and her final 109 holes 37 placed under par.
“I guess Lizette did a really long putt on # 1 and I looked at birdie properly,” said Korda, “and I think if you get into that mindset of poking each other, it’s fun, but it is also nerve-wracking. Your adrenaline will definitely rise. “
Korda said that she told her caddy Jason McDede when they started working together that he was going to have a heart attack with her.
“I mean, I risked it in 15th place, this par 3,” said Korda of a shot that flirted with the water, “and I swear to God I had a heart attack.”
Korda’s driving average for the week is more than 30 yards behind Salas, but it doesn’t bother the 31-year-old veteran.
Two years ago, at the Solheim Cup, Salas defeated one of the longest players on tour – Anne van Dam – in the Sunday singles with the words “I’ll just meet you on the green”.
“I’m not at all intimidated by the length,” said Salas, who sometimes met Hybrid with Korda’s short irons. “I just know that I can keep up out here.”
For Salas – who ran 45 holes without a bogey – the stroke of the day didn’t actually hit the greens. It was a bunker shot that hit her on the sixth hole, which nestled 3 feet from the hole. She used to avoid the bunkers, really feared them, but recent work with swing coach Jim Gormley has made her ready to take on the challenge. She is 3 to 3 in sand saving mode this week and leads the field.
“You only get a tingling sensation in your stomach when you hand in a recording that you’ve been working on for so long,” she said, “and you have it in mind perfectly and somehow your body just knows what to do. “
Both Korda and Salas recently talked about finding more joy in their craft. She may look stoic, but inside it feels like a roller coaster.
“I think it feels good to let it out,” she said. “You never know until someone says it in some way, and I saw it when Bubba (Watson) and Matt Wolff said it at the US Open, and it makes you think you’re like – you know , Why? Not everyone who takes this approach, for example, why do you bring your work home with you afterwards? When you’ve had a bad day, you just feel like you don’t laugh all day. You leave your work here, you go home, have a nice day, and you come back with a better attitude. “
Salas first opened up to her team in February about the mental health issues she faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. When she moved to Dallas, she said she was running away from her problems rather than being responsible for what went on.
Killeen was on the scene for Salas when she won at Kingsmill, saying the player he sees now is more rounded, humble, and laughs faster. She is also a better communicator.
Salas opened up to the media about her struggles after the first round, but said that when she addressed it in a previous Instagram post, she received feedback from her peers. The most surprising, she said, came from Lexi Thompson, a powerful, successful player who said she could identify with. Salas was comforted by this, saying she believed she was meant to get through the dark days.
“It brought me closer to who I really am,” she says.