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Korda continues upward trend on Day 1 of Founders

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PHOENIX – Jessica Korda is playing more fearlessly now.

She is playing more aggressively, attacking more flagsticks, because she isn’t afraid to miss greens anymore. She doesn’t look at her short game as such a liability anymore.

“It was really bad,” she said. “Really, really bad.”

Not anymore.

Korda got herself in early contention Thursday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, posting a 3-under-par 69 to move two shots behind Karine Icher at Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club.

Korda, 25, stunned the golf world winning the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start back after a complex and painful jaw surgery in the offseason. It was the fifth LPGA title of her career. She tied for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her second this year.

Nelly, 19, Korda’s younger sister, is just five shots back after opening with a 72. She played in the pairing directly behind her sister.

Jessica credits David Whelan, her coach of two years, for helping her develop a more complete game.

“He completely turned me around,” Korda said.

Especially her short game.

“I used to get so frustrated missing greens,” Jessica said. “Because I was like, `That's an automatic bogey.’ I knew how hard I would have to work just to make par.”

After hitting a wedge heavy and short of the 16th green Thursday, Korda felt the confidence she didn’t have in her short game not so long ago.

“I was like, `Oh well, whatever,’” Korda said. “Chipped it up to a foot, and I was done. It's automatic, and that's really nice.”

Korda moved to No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week, the highest she has ever ranked. She is starting to feel like she may be ready to make a run at being the best player in the world.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“It’s trending in that direction,” Korda said. “I still have a lot to figure out.”

The Korda sisters appear to be trending up together. Nelly nearly won her first LPGA title in Singapore two weeks ago, tying for second after just missing a short birdie putt that would have gotten her into a playoff with Michelle Wie at the HSBC Women’s World Championship.

Whelan is also Nelly’s coach. In fact, he worked with Nelly before Jessica.

“He completely turned my golf game around,” Nelly said without knowing Jessica had said the exact same thing about 10 minutes earlier. “I was really struggling when I saw him. My swing was god awful. He just really, like, rebuilt my golf game.”

Jessica started red hot on Thursday, stiffing her approach at her first hole to 2 feet to make birdie. She stuck shots close at her second, third and fourth holes. She hit driver off the deck at her sixth hole, knocking her shot about 250 yards, to 15 feet to set up a two-putt birdie.

Jessica was 5 under through six holes.

With blustery, cold winds blowing hard across the course about three hours into her round, Korda made a pair of closing bogeys. Still, she was pleased with her position, given the difficult conditions on a course that wasn’t giving up as many birdies as it traditionally does.

Nobody expected Korda to come out so strong in her start to the new year, not after offseason surgery knocked her off her feet. She had her upper jaw broken in three places in the procedure, her lower jaw in two places. The surgery corrected the alignment of her jaw and alleviated debilitating headaches. She has 27 screws in her skull holding the repair together.

There were signs late last year, however, that Korda was ready to take her game to another level. She tied for third at the Blue Bay LPGA in her second-to-last start in 2017, and finished second at the CME Group Tour Championship in her last start.

“I finished off the season really well,” Korda said. “The only thing is I’m not playing with a constant headache, which is really nice.”