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With renewed confidence on greens, Nelly Korda extends ANA lead

Swing coach Justin Sheehan has been trying to convince Nelly Korda that she’s better on the greens than she gives herself credit for.

“Who’s the best putter in the world?” he’ll ask.

And each time, she has to reply: “I am.”

Korda sure looked the part Friday at the ANA Inspiration.

Korda fired a 67 to stay in front at the second LPGA major of the year, but her round was keyed by two par putts on her back nine that kept her bogey-free across her last 32 holes at Mission Hills.

After missing her lone fairway of the day on No. 2, her 11th hole of the day, Korda hacked out wide right of the green. “Near dead over there,” she said, but she pitched on and rolled in a 20-footer for par. “I was super happy with rolling that putt in,” she said. “I was like, Just get me off this hole.”

Korda faced even more adversity on the next hole, when she fatted her approach and found the thick rough around the green. The ball didn’t come out as she expected, but she sank a 25-footer for par to keep rolling.

“Thank God for my putting today,” she said.

Through two rounds, she was at 11-under 133 as the 22-year-old chases her first career major title.

Full-field scores from the ANA Inspiration

Korda has climbed to No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings on the strength of elite ball-striking, which has powered her three wins since October 2018. Last season she ranked 59th on tour in putting average but had slipped in that statistic in limited action this year. Looking for a spark, she decided to start putting cross-handed last month at the AIG Women’s Open.

“Honestly, I’ve always really wanted to go left-hand low, but I’ve never really had the guts to do it,” she said. “The first week I tried it was at the British, and I was like, Well, this is a great week – it’s (blowing) 40 mph. But it worked out really well, and I’ve been putting pretty good with left-hand low.”

Korda has improved in each of her past two events, finishing in tie for 14th at Royal Troon before a T-3 in her most recent start in Arkansas. She has made only one bogey this week.

“I was definitely very happy with my putting today,” she said, “and I was superbly happy with the bogey-free (round).”