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Intimidating tree-lined fairways of Sahalee await Korda and rest of field in the Women's PGA

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) — Inside her yardage book, Nelly Korda keeps the markings simple. The No. 1 player in the world denotes the spots she needs to avoid hitting by writing X’s.

At Sahalee Country Club, with Douglas fir, red cedar and hemlock trees framing every fairway and making each look like a hallway, there are likely to be a substantial amount of those X marks outside the short grass.

“I think every hole looks a little different. They’re all intimidating and great in their own way,” Korda said.

Korda is again the headliner this week as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship tees off Thursday at Sahalee, the third major of the year on the LPGA Tour.

But she arrived in the Seattle area in a different place with her game than just a few weeks ago, when she showed up at the U.S. Women’s Open having won six of her previous seven starts, including a major at the Chevron Championship. At the time, no player in the world was on more of a roll than Korda and adding another major seemed probable, if not likely.

That didn’t happen. Korda missed the cut at Lancaster Country Club after an opening-round 80 that included a 10 on her third hole and watched as Yuka Saso went on to win the championship for a second time. When she returned last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic, Korda struggled to an opening-round 76 before shooting 67 in the second round, but missed out on playing the weekend by one shot.

“I’m just going to stay in my bubble this week and go out and try to execute my shots, be confident in what I have,” Korda said. “This golf course is already hard enough and if I’m going to put more pressure on myself, then I think it’s just going to make it even harder this week.”

Sahalee is the first course to host the tournament twice since the partnership between the PGA of America and LPGA began a decade ago and boosted the prominence and purse for this major championship. This year’s tournament has a record purse of $10.4 million.

The course measures just over 6,700 yards and water comes into play on only a handful of holes. It’ll play to a par 72, one stroke higher than 2016 as the 18th has been converted to a par 5. Players have noted the greens seem softer than 2016, although temperatures are supposed to push into the 80s for the first two rounds and dry out the putting surfaces.

But the favorite word for the week to describe the course seems to be “intimidating,” because of the tree-lined tunnels from which shots will emerge.

“It’s really tight for the tee shot. It’s I think a classic ball-striking course,” said defending champ Ruoning Yin, who won last year at Baltusrol.

One player who proved she can maneuver successfully through the trees is Brooke Henderson, who won the first of her two career majors in 2016 at Sahalee, beating Lydia Ko in a playoff.

At 18, Henderson was the youngest winner in the history of the event. She shot 65 in the final round to get into the playoff and birdied the first extra hole with a 7-iron from 155 yards to a couple of feet. The course unveiled a plaque this week from the location on the 18th fairway where Henderson hit that shot.

The memories are still fresh and came flooding back as Henderson, now 26 and 13th in the world ranking, made her way around the course.

“I love the huge towering trees and the tight fairways. It’s almost majestic. Feels very peaceful and amazing,” Henderson said.

At the same time, she was reminded of how claustrophobic Sahalee can feel and the importance of simply hitting the ball straight. Do that, and the place can feel downright serene.

“Every tee shot you have to really pay attention. Can never really take a break out here. Even the approach shots you got to know where the slopes are and where your misses are,” Henderson said. “But at the same time, if you’re playing well and you can kind of lean into the beauty that surrounds you and soak it in, it makes for a really nice walk around this place.”

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