NAPLES, Fla. – This has to be exactly what the powers that be had in mind when they changed the format of the CME Globe Tour Championship. The only math anyone needed to do Thursday at the Tiburón Golf Club was add up the birdies by Sei Young Kim and convert how many South Korean won she can buy with $1.5 million.
Kim, a nine-time LPGA winner and 2015 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, sizzled to a seven-under-par 65 in the first round for a two-stroke lead over Nelly Korda, Georgia Hall and So Yeon Ryu in the chase for the biggest prize in women’s golf.
Known as a player who can go low – she set the LPGA scoring record at 31-under-par 257 at the 2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic – Kim made five birdies in her first 11 holes and then put an exclamation point at the end of her bogey-free round with an eagle on No. 17.
“The front nine I had four birdies and then back nine I had one birdie until No. 17,” she said about a first nine played in little wind, which gained strength during her second nine.
“Hole 17, I made the eagle," she said. "That eagle I got big momentum and then I got extra confidence and I was able to strong finish.”
Kim, who has won twice on the LPGA this year, can reach one of her goals on Sunday.
“Beginning year, I set [my] goal in this year [of winning] three tournaments, so if I win this tournament it's going to be reach my goal in this year, which is really nice,” she said, adding that she won’t let the big prize distract her.
“Okay, even [though] this tournament [is] really special, but I try to just make myself comfortable,” Kim said. “I don't put any extra pressure on myself.”
The season-long points leader, Jin Young Ko, is at 71 in her bid to add the Tour Championship to her four victories – which include the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship – the Rolex Player of the Year, the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award and, most likely, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.
Jeongeun Lee6, the Rolex Rookie of the Year, is at 72. Also hot on the heels of Kim are Marina Alex, Caroline Masson, Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Lizette Salas at 68 with Chella Choi, Jenny Shin, Wei-Ling Hsu, Su Oh, Bronte Law, Brittany Altomare and Danielle Kang at 69 as more than half the field of 60 broke par in the first round.
For five years, the season-long Race to the CME Globe points were reset before the Tour Championship. And for four of those five years there were two different winners at Tiburón, one for the Tour Championship and one for the $1 million bonus. There’s no more of that confusion.
Now there is one winner collecting one huge check. And Hall is a perfect example of the dynamic nature of the new format. She came into the Tour Championship at No. 50 on the Race to the CME Globe points list. Last year, she’d have been mathematically eliminated already. Now she’s in the mix for the big payoff.
Hall began her day with an extremely tidy front nine in which she made no bogeys and two birdies for a 34. Her back nine was a wild ride in which she made a double bogey and an eagle as well as three birdies for a 33.
The only blemish on Hall’s scorecard was a big one – a double bogey 6 on No. 13. What was that all about?
“Yeah, I had to call [the] physio just for my foot; then we were a bit behind, so I was trying to keep up,” she said. “Maybe rushed slightly and managed to hit a couple bad shots on that hole. I was so happy the way I bounced back after that.”
It seems some new shoes cut into her foot.
“Yeah, still hurting, but it's fine,” she said. “I can cope with it. It’s one of the biggest tournaments of the whole year, biggest prize fund. I don't really want the off-season to start. But I'm just really focused on my game and not really focusing on Sunday yet. Just a good first round.”
Hall is right; there is still a lot of golf to play. But if she wants to start doing some currency conversion: $1.5 million is 1.16 million British pounds and if Kim wants to do some similar bookkeeping, the top prize here is 1.8 billion South Korean won.
There is no more struggling with points projections. Now the only math required is that conversion from dollars to won or pounds or any of the currencies of the other 14 nations in the field.
And that’s calculating anyone who wins $1.5 million won’t mind doing. After one round, the CME Globe Tour Championship changes are an idea that is working.