NAPLES, Fla. – In the 67 previous LPGA seasons there has never been as much on the line going into the final tournament as this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. At stake at theGolf Club is not only the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus but also Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average and the money title.
And the fact that Sung Hyun Park won the Rolex Rookie of the Year in an historic route – her lead over runner-up Angel Yin is greater than the total number of points Yin accumulated – puts her in a position to join Nancy Lopez in 1978 as the only players to be Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.
It’s a fitting end to a season in which the LPGA proved, once again, that it is not only golf’s global tour but also possesses one of the deepest pools of talent in its history. Not until the 16th event of the year was there a repeat winner; 22 different players from eight countries won the 32 tournaments; and the five majors had five different winners.
Shanshan Feng, who comes into the CME off consecutive wins in Asia, and I.K. Kim, winner of the Ricoh Women’s British Open, lead the tour with three wins each. ANA Inspiration champion So Yeon Ryu, U.S. Women’s Open titleholder Sung Hyun Park, Anna Nordqvist, who took the Evian Championship, Lexi Thompson, Brooke M. Henderson and Cristie Kerr won twice.
That incredible breadth of talent puts a lot on the line this week and the excitement surrounding the tournament is exactly with the LPGA and CME Group had in mind when it came up with the idea for this season-ending event. Here is the breakdown on the game-within-the-game at this year’s CME.
Four players have a chance to be Rolex Player of the Year. Ryu has a 3-point lead over Feng; is only 5 ahead of Park and leads Lexi by 15. With 30 points going to the winner and 12 for second place, a Thompson victory and Ryu runner-up finish gives the POY to Lexi.
Two of those players can also win the money title. Park leads Ryu by $298,047. The winner gets $625,000 at CME, where the $1 million bonus does not count as official money but does spend rather nicely.
And in the race for the Vare Trophy, and the LPGA Hall of Fame point it brings, Thompson has a 0.112 stroke-per-round lead over Park with In Gee Chun 0.122 behind. Stacy Lewis is fourth trailing by 0.467 and Ryu is 0.483 off the top spot.
And the battle for the Race to the CME Globe $1 million bonus is wide open. Here is the breakdown in points after the reset:
1. Lexi Thompson 5,000
2. Sung Hyun Park 4,750
3. Shanshan Feng 4,500
4. So Yeon Ryu 4,250
5. Brooke M. Henderson 4,000
6. In Gee Chun 3,600
7. Cristie Kerr 3,200
8. Moriya Jutanugarn 2,800
9. Ariya Jutanugarn 2,400
10. Anna Nordqvist 2,100
11. Stacy Lewis 1,800
12. Lydia Ko 1,600
The top-five players in the ranking control their fate: Win the CME Group LPGA Tour Championship and they bank the million bucks. Those in the top-12 of the 81-player field have a mathematical chance of winning based on permutation and computations beyond my numerical skills.
The bottom line is this: Ryu, Park, Feng and Thompson all have a chance to be Player of the Year, and take home the $1 million CME bonus. Thompson and Park are also in the mix for the Vare Trophy. And Park has a chance for an unprecedented sweep: ROY, POY, Vare, money title and CME Bonus.
And if that is not enough, Feng, Park, Ryu and Lexi are the top-four in the Rolex Rankings battle for No. 1 in the world. Could any more be on the line this week? Fire up that popcorn machine, lay in your beverage of choice and dial in the TV to Golf Channel. This should be a season finale for the ages.