For four years, the CME Group Tour Championship provided the richest payday in women’s golf with the Race to the CME Globe $1 million bonus. This fifth edition is a celebration of that success and a glimpse into a future that will be bigger and better. But the first order of business is to see if Ariya Jutanugarn can complete a dominating sweep of all the major LPGA awards.
The 22-year-old talent from Thailand has already wrapped up Rolex Player of the Year, an honor she also won in 2016, as well as the money title and needs to be within 15 strokes of Jin Young Ko to take the Vare Trophy for scoring average. That $1 million bonus is all that stands between the Rolex Ranking No. 1 and a clean sweep. The chase for the cash starts Thursday at the Tiburón Golf Club.
The easiest way to look at what’s at stake this week is that those ranked in the top five after the Race to the CME Globe points reset – Jutanugarn, Minjee Lee, Brooke Henderson, Nasa Hataoka and Sung Hyun Park – can win the $1 million by winning the Tour Championship. It’s as simple as that.
But those in the top 12 do have a mathematical chance of winning, based on various scenarios that you probably saw Russell Crowe scribbling on a blackboard in “A Beautiful Mind.” That brings Sei Young Kim, Jin Young Ko, So Yeon Ryu, Moriya Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko, who won the $1 million in 2014 and 2015, Marina Alex and Carlota Ciganda into the mix.
In 2019, the ninth year of CME Group’s involvement with the LPGA, a slimmed-down process and bulked up purse will put $5 million into the pot with $1.5 million going to the winner, the largest single-day payout in the history of women’s golf. And fans watching on Golf Channel won’t need anyone to go full Steve Kornacki on them to explain who has a chance to win.
And in 2019, instead of 72 players in the field there will be 60 and all of them will have a chance at the big prize. That makes it all easier for the fans to understand and it gives the winner $600,000 more than the U.S. Women’s Open champion, currently the richest payout in women’s golf. Mull that number over in your head a bit.
On Tuesday, 30 years to the day after Curtis Strange became the first man to win $1 million in a single year on the PGA Tour, it was announced that in 2019 a woman will win $1.5 million in a single day at the CME Group Tour Championship. That’s astounding, but that’s drama for next year. Let’s focus on this tournament.
In a year that put the stunning depth and breadth of talent on the LPGA Tour in full display – 25 different winners from 10 countries with the five major champions from five countries – Jutanugarn emerged as the most consistent of a highly competitive group of players.
Since the U.S. Women’s Open, which Jutanugarn won in a playoff after squandering a seven-stroke lead with nine holes to play, Ariya has had seven top-10 finishes in 14 events, including two wins, two seconds a third and a fourth. Overall, she led the tour with 16 top-10 finishes and is tied with Park for most wins with three.
“I just have to go out and do my job,” Jutanugarn said about winning the big prize. “That’s all I’m think about right now.” Her track record at Tiburón has been one of getting the job done very well, winning here last year and finishing fourth in 2016, when she won the Race to the CME Globe bonus.
Hard on her heels is Lee, who won this year’s Volvik Championship and has 12 other top-10 finishes, including being runner-up three times. “Everything is a little better this year, so it’s my best year yet,” said the 22-year-old Australian. “I think I’m just a little bit more mature and settled in on the tour so I just know myself a little better and just how to handle things.”
And sitting in third place in the points reset is Henderson, a 21-year-old who is a two-time winner in 2018, including the CP Women’s Open in her homeland of Canada, as well as having eight other top-10 finishes. Having a chance to win the $1 million bonus was one of her goals for the season.
“I’m just really happy to be back in the position of third in the CME,” Henderson said. “Coming into the year, I definitely wanted to be in the top five to have a chance this week. I think it’s just an amazing opportunity, so hopefully I can capitalize.”
Henderson is among the five who have a chance to grab the $1 million by winning here this week. But only Jutanugarn can leave Naples with all the major honors as well as that big check. And that makes this a most fitting way to take the CME Group Tour Championship from what it was to what it will be.