The 2021 LPGA Tour season is about to conclude. Since 2014, the CME Group Tour Championship will be the decisive closing event on the Race to the CME Globe. With a tournament planned to include only 60 players, the Gold Course at the Tiburon Golf Club is getting ready to welcome and host the best of the women’s golf universe on the season-ending date of the LPGA Tour.
How did the 60 qualifiers reach the final? During the season, they gathered points in each official event of the LPGA Tour before the CME Group Tour Championship. The top 60 earned their place in the contest and will compete for $ 5 million, with a $ 1.5-million check reserved for the winner, the largest individual prize in the history of women’s golf.
The CME Group Tour Championship will begin on Thursday and conclude on Sunday, November 21. It will be played over 72 holes (four rounds) without a qualifying cut.
Lydia Ko (2014 and 2105) and the Thai Ariya Jutanugarn (2016 and 2018) share the privilege of winning twice the Race to the CME Globe.
The 72nd season of the LPGA Tour is drawing to a close. Last January, the season began in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and will end in Naples, also Florida. 35 competitions were planned (five were canceled) with more than $ 70 million in prizes. This year 10 countries received the best of world women’s golf in a season that also featured the Solheim Cup (won by Europe) and the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
If we have to pick the favorites to win the CME Group Tour Championship, the undisputed two obvious options are Jin Young Ko (+450) and Nelly Korda (+550). They are both the quintessential candidates to clinch the trophy this week in Naples.
“Last week was definitely a confidence boost, but I’ve always said it’s really hard to kind of win back to back because you’re a little mentally and physically drained from the week prior,” Korda said. And the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1 is someone who really knows about competing in this situation. With 7 victories on the LPGA Tour (four this year), the young golfer born in Bradenton, Florida, is looking for extra motivation this week.
“I love this event. I love this golf course. I love any type of Florida event I can drive to. I always feel so much more at home and have family and friends come out. I’ve played well at this golf course. I grew up in Florida on Bermuda grass, so it’s kind of easier for me to adapt to this. I’m super excited to be back, and hopefully, I can give it a good shot this year,” said Korda, who won last week the Pelican Women’s Championship at Belleair.
An unprecedented possibility puts Korda on the verge of making history in women’s golf. If she wins this week, she will become the first American to win at least five times in the same season, something that has not happened since Juli Inkster achieved this superb merit back in 1999. And not only it is about this serious possibility: she would be getting the Rolex Player of the Year award if she wins, something she never did before.
“It’s crazy because usually I come to this event, and I’m so far away from that. I see so many girls that have had an amazing year, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I would have to play amazing to even be in contention for that.’ So the fact that I’m in contention just shows how well I’ve played this year and shows how much my hard work has been paying off.”
For her part, the top-favorite South Korean Jin Young Ko arrives in Naples with the heaviest load of her career. She contemplated walking away from the LPGA Tour after her grandmother’s passing last March.
“I would say I don’t really want to play golf on this tour,” Ko said on Tuesday. “Yeah, because if I did play in KLPGA, I could meet her [Ko’s grandmother], but this tour — I love this tour — but it’s too far from Korea to here, so I couldn’t get to Korea before when she passed away. That’s the first time I really don’t want to play in LPGA Tour.”
So much composure and sensitivity mingled together in the defender of the title’s personality have captivated the specialized press. Ko comes from achieving three wins in her last three presentations (Cambia Portland Classic, Cognizant Founders Cup, and BMW Ladies Championship) that rocketed her to first place in the Race to the CME Globe.
“Feels really good and my swing or my game is almost perfect,” Ko said. “If I made more putts, I can do a win again.” At just 22 years old, Ko shows consistency and a lot of experience. Her 11 LPGA Tour victories (two in major tournaments) are only a tiny part of this talented Asian golfer’s accomplishments.
“I really want to get the Player of the Year, but I don’t want to play too aggressively… just I will keep doing it what I did to play last couple tournaments,” Jin Young Ko said. “Yeah, if I’m playing good, I can get the Player of the Year.”
Jin Young is far from being a long player (she is 64 in the statistics with the driver, with 258.30 yards), but it is clear that her attribute is her precision. And the results are noticeable: she has 51 rounds under par so far in 2021 (she is number 1 in this category) and the second-best in scoring average, with 69.03 strokes. With more than 79% of the fairways in regulation and almost 78% of the greens in regulation, no one beats Jin Young combining these stats. As we always used to say: statistics rule.
At just 24 years old, born-in-South-Korea New Zealander Lydia Ko (+700) wants to be the third in contention in this end-of-season duel between the two best in the World Ranking.
Always ready to break records, Lydia continues to mark her career with concrete steps. For those who might not remember it, back in February 2015, she reached number 1 in the World Ranking at only 17, becoming the youngest golfer to achieve this milestone in golf history. She also remains the youngest golfer to win a major at the Evian Championship at just 18. She also later won the ANA Inspiration that same year.
Lydia is coming off from losing in last week’s quadruple playoffs at the Pelican Women’s Championship. This season she achieved only one victory, winning the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. On that occasion, she carded a total of 260 strokes (-28), seven strokes ahead of her nearest rivals.
Ko ($ 12,252,147) ranks 10th on the all-time list in earnings of LPGA Tour players. This ranking is led by Annika Sörenstam, the highest award winner in the history of the LPGA ($ 22,577,025), followed by Karrie Webb ($ 20,270,249) and Cristie Kerr ($ 20,107,437).
The Tiburon Golf Club is located in Naples, Florida. It was founded in 1998, and since 2013 it has hosted the CME Group Tour Championship, the tournament that brings the LPGA Tour season to an end every year. This fantastic golf complex has two courses (Gold and Black) designed by Australian Greg Norman.
In addition, since 2001, it has hosted the annual QBE Shootout (formerly the Franklin Templeton Shootout), originally known as the “Shark Shootout,” which is also held on the Gold Course. This is an off-season golf event hosted by Norman.
The Gold Course (par 72) is 6,556 yards long for the women. Coquina Shell-waste bunkers are recurring throughout the course, which winds between lakes and unconventional rough. Norman undoubtedly managed to integrate the natural environment into his design.
Hole 6 is considered the most difficult on the course. This is a long par 5 that always puts golfers to the test. Lined by tall pines, cypress trees, and fairway bunkers, this hole, the No. 6, demands both long-distance accuracy and short-game precision.
England’s Charley Hull holds the tournament record for the 72 holes, with 269 strokes (-19). She did it in November 2016, when she outscored South Korean Ryu So-yeon by two strokes.
The first CME Group Tour Championship edition was held in November 2011 at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida (it had previously hosted the LPGA Tour Championship in 2010). In 2012, the tournament moved to the TwinEagles Club’s Eagle Course in Naples, Florida. Since 2013 it has been played in Naples, always on the Gold Course of the Tiburon Golf Club.
There are several things at stake in the closing date of the LPGA Tour season. Out of the 60 best golfers in the women’s ranking, only one will not participate in the CME Group Tour Championship: South Korea’s Inbee Park (ranked 6th). And that was the need to be present this week in Naples.
The format for the season finale of the LPGA Tour has recently changed. The ranking shows Jin Young Ko ahead of Nelly Korda by 100 points, with a 765 difference over Lydia Ko. But this difference does not matter much, in fact. The field was reduced to 12 players, and the earned points mean that the one who wins on the Gold Course at the Tiburon Golf Club will also get first place in the Race to the CME Globe.
It is worth noting that the LPGA Tour is based on a points system to define the best golfer of the year. However, there is no discussion in the definition of the player of the year: in this category, only Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko have real and definite chances. Korda leads Ko by just 10 points (191 to 181).
“It would be crazy to win (the Race to the CME Globe). You never know, but good golf will solve that. I haven’t even teed it up on Thursday or the pro-am, so still a long way away. It would be nice to win another one at home. Before this year, I didn’t win a tournament on home soil, so it would be nice to do it in front of family,” said Nelly Korda.
What about the other players? It seems that the rest of the participants are reduced to actresses in a supporting role. But it is not like that at all. Sei Young Kim (+1400), Lexi Thompson (+1800), Brooke Henderson (+2000), Hyo Joo Kim (+2000), Minjee Lee (+2500), and Danielle Kang (+2500) have all had an exciting season, and they do not want to miss their chances to be as close as possible to the center-stage position.
Sei Young Kim continues to fight to regain her best game. At only 26, the Seoul-born South Korean is almost a veteran with 22 professional victories and several top-finish competitions. That fit form led her to win the Women’s PGA Championship last year and finish the season as No. 1. Last week, she lost in a playoff in Naples, where she was defending the title. That result allowed her to jump from 20th to 11th place in the Race to the CME Globe ranking.
Born in Coral Springs, Lexi Thompson is one of many players who will feel “at home” this week in Naples. “The precocious girl” that knew how to qualify for the US Women Open when she was just 12 years old in 2010 has not yet recovered from her tragic final round in that tournament last June. She was leading at The Olympic Club in San Francisco with a five-stroke margin when a 41-stroke (+5) card in the back nine holes forced her out of the playoff by one stroke only. But bear in mind: she comes to the CME Group Tour Championship this week already knowing what winning this tournament is about after her victory back in 2018.
Another player who has big chances to shine this week is Canadian Brooke Henderson. She is currently 8th in the Race to the CME Globe, 1,703 points behind Jin Young Ko. “It’s just kind of a comfort level,” said Brooke of her parents’ presence last week at Belleair. Due to Covid-19’s pandemic and its current restrictions, her family members have not been able to join her daughter for her tournaments for almost two years. Henderson is one of the golfers involved in the controversy over the length of her driver shaft: “I started hitting a driver longer than 46 when I was 15,” she said, “and I’ve never looked back.” Known for her aggressive game and long distance this season, her driving average is 274.23. The Canadian is always a sensation for her fans. In the meantime, we will have to wait for a final decision by the USGA and R&A authorities to see if she will be able to play with a 48-inch driver.
Hyo Joo Kim cannot be ruled out this week. At 26, the South Korean has won 20 professional competitions, 4 of them on the LPGA Tour. This year she regained the shine that she seemed lost by winning the OKSavingsBank Se Ri Pak Invitational and the SK Networks Seokyung Ladies Classic. She did not participate in the Pelican Women’s Championship last week, so she arrives fresh and collected to do her best at the season’s close.
Georgia Hall, Austin Ernst, and Gaby Lopez will have the honor of kicking off the tournament with the first tee shot on hole 1 at 07:27 AM on Thursday. Meanwhile, the final group of Jin Young Ko, Nelly Korda, and Lydia Ko will be teeing up at 9:15 AM.
Jin Young Ko (+450)
Nelly Korda (+550)
Lydia Ko (+700)
Sei Young Kim (+1400)
Lexi Thompson (+1800)
Brooke Henderson (+2000)
Hyo Joo Kim (+2000)
Minjee Lee (+2500)
Danielle Kang (+2500)
Patty Tavatanakit (+2800)
Yuka Saso (+3000)
Jessica Korda (+3500)
Jeongeun Lee (+3500)
Nasa Hataoka (+4000)
Jennifer Kupcho (+4000)
Charley Hull (+4000)
Ariya Jutanugarn (+4500)
Xiyu Lin (+4500)
Carlota Ciganda (+4500)
Leona Maguire (+5000)
So Yeon Ryu (+5000)
Anna Nordqvist (+5500)
In Gee Chun (+5500)
Georgia Hall (+5500)
A Lim Kim (+6000)
Moriya Jutanugarn (+6500)
Celine Boutier (+6500)
Hannah Green (+6500)
Gaby Lopez (+6500)
Ally Ewing (+7500)
Pajaree Anannarukarn (+7500)
Esther Henseleit (+7500)
Matilda Castren (+7500)
Austin Ernst (+7500)
Yealimi Noh (+7500)
Su Oh (+7500)
Lizette Salas (+7500)
Mina Harigae (+7500)
Magdelene Sagstrom (+7500)
Megan Khang (+7500)
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