[PHOTO: Christian Petersen]

Here comes a healthy Nelly Korda. Her dominant bogey-free 65 to win the Ford Championship at 20-under-par earned the world No.1 her third consecutive LPGA victory. The run includes a seven-week gap between wins at the LPGA Drive On Championship in January and last week’s Fir Hills Se Ri Pak Championship.

Korda’s 11th career title adds her name to a list of some of the LPGA’s all-time greats. The 25-year-old is the first American to win three consecutive events since Nancy Lopez in 1978. She is the first American to win three tournaments before April since Joanne Carner in 1980. And Korda has made only four starts this year, her first fully healthy campaign since 2021.

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

Korda battled injuries in three of her previous four seasons, nearly half of her LPGA career. She withdrew from the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after injuring her back and did not play for two months. She had surgery on a blood clot in 2022, taking six months to fully recover. Last May, Korda missed a month with a lower-back injury.

In 2021, however, when Korda was healthy, she was dominant. The golfer from Bradenton, Florida, won four times that year, including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Olympic gold medal.

Korda explained that while she was healthy in both 2021 and 2024, there are two differences between now and three years ago – she has a stronger body and a refined mental approach. During her seven-week break, Korda explained she prioritised her fitness and strengthened her body more this year than in the past. Korda also feels she brings a more mature approach to the game.

“Some of the decisions that maybe Jay (McDede, her caddie) and I would make on the golf course being a little riskier we don’t try to do in contention,” Korda said.

That wisdom showed down the stretch at Seville Golf & Country Club in Gilbert, Arizona. Korda started the final day two off the lead amid a crowded leaderboard, teeing off three groups ahead of the leaders. At the start of the final round, 15 players were within two strokes of first place. Korda took the outright lead at 18-under on the 13th hole with her fourth birdie of the day. On the 15th, she was tied with Lexi Thompson and Australian tour rookie Hira Naveed after they both made birdie to catch Korda.

The three-way tie set Korda up to do what she calls “Nelly things” at the end, where she’d be helter-skelter at the finish but come away with the victory. Instead, her opponents faltered while Korda closed steadily. She decided to lay up with a 7-wood on the 300-yard, par-4 16th hole. Earlier in the week, she hit driver and found the water.

After reaching the centre of the fairway, Korda had 108 yards in and nearly holed out with a controlled pitching wedge into the wind. She birdied the hole to reclaim the outright lead, which she would never relinquish.

Thompson, searching for her first LPGA victory since the 2019 Shoprite LPGA Classic, drove it into the water on the 16th and made bogey. She then missed a three-footer for par on the 17th to fall two behind. The 11-time LPGA champion ended up in a five-way tie for third, her best finish since a runner-up at the 2022 Pelican Women’s Championship when she lost to Korda.

“A lot of positives to take from this week, especially going into a major,” Thompson said. “But I have two weeks and I know what I need to work on.”

Naveed needed a birdie on the par-5 18th but did not do so despite getting near the green in two. The Perth golfer, having made the cut on the number, settled for a final-round 66 to finish runner-up in just her second career LPGA start.

“She’s an amazing player,” Naveed said of Korda. “To share the stage with her is really an honour.”

Korda birdied the 18th to pull away, watching from the clubhouse while having a cup of soup to warm up on the chilly, damp day.

Securing the title is another step towards a career year for a healthy Korda.

“It’s easy to compare for sure, but I think that the golf that I’m playing right now, hopefully it leads me to the year that I had in 2021 or better,” Korda said.