NAPLES, FLORIDA | Someone is going to wake up Monday constantly refreshing her bank’s app, checking for that $1.5 million direct deposit from the CME Group Tour Championship. Sunday will be a life-changing day for one player, but it will also be an arc-altering moment for the LPGA, which in 2020 celebrates its 70th anniversary.
History-making events don’t usually slap you in the face and shout, “Hey, I’m here,” but everything about the revamped Race to the CME Globe with its $5 million purse and record first prize screams that this is a landmark moment.
Of the 60 players in the field, all of whom began the week with a chance to bank the big bucks, Sei Young Kim, gunning for her tenth LPGA Tour win, goes into the final round with a one-stroke lead over Nelly Korda, who is trying for her fourth title in barely more than a year, putting a feather in the cap of a breakout season with a bank-breaking check.
And they have a lot of company on the leaderboard, which Kim tops at 16-under par 200 through 54 holes after Saturday's third round. Korda is at 201 and then there is a three-stroke gap to Caroline Masson at 204 with Charley Hull at 205.
Lurking at 206 with a chance to make a move on the birdie-friendly Tiburón Resort course are Rolex Player of the Year Jin Young Ko, Jessica Korda, Brooke Henderson and Su Oh.
They are followed at 207 by Lexi Thompson, So Yeon Ryu, Danielle Kang, Bronte Law, Amy Yang, Mi Jung Hur and Yu Liu. At 208 are Ariya Jutanugarn, Rolex Rookie of the Year Jeongeun Lee6 and Nanna Koerstz Madsen.
The star-studded leaderboard reflects the energy of the week, which has been unavoidable. It vibrated Wednesday when it was announced that Commissioner Mike Whan received a long-term contract extension. An emotional wave engulfed Thursday’s Rolex Award Dinner, stolen by the Rookie of the Year speech of Lee6, delivered from the heart in flawless English.
And the tide grew Friday when the schedule for the 2020 season was unveiled with a record $75.1 million in prize money and more than 500 hours of TV and at least seven events getting network coverage. On Sunday we find out who’ll be refreshing that app.
Certainly, the format changes have been a rousing success. Instead of a season-long points system that in the past eliminated most of those in the field from contention for the CME bonus, this year all 60 players had their points reset to zero, giving everyone an equal chance to collect the $1.5 million.
Kim was flawless on Saturday, going out with three birdies and coming back with one in a bogey-free 68.
“The front nine was quite solid,” she said. “The back nine I had a lot of chances but could not make them.”
As for her attitude going into Sunday’s shootout for the $1.5 million, Kim said: “I have a lot of confidence from the Asia Swing,” a run of three tournaments, all top-10 finishes for her.
Early on it looked like it was going to be a long day for Korda, who made a double bogey on No. 3 and eventually fell five strokes behind Kim. But she got her mind off her troubles by singing to herself then played the rest of the way with a wonderful rhythm, making eight birdies on the final 15 holes.
“It’s moving day so I tried to move up the leaderboard and get a little closer to her,” Korda said. “I tried to tell myself to be more aggressive on the back,” she said about the closing nine, on which she hummed in 31 strokes to finish off a 66.
“That bunker shot on No. 11 was really nice,” she said about the shot she holed for a birdie, the middle one of three in a row with which she started the closing nine. “I didn’t know I was five down, but I knew it was four. I am a leaderboard watcher,” Korda said.
When Nelly and Sei Young watch the leaderboard during Sunday’s final they will be keeping an eye on the big names poised to make a move behind them. And they likely will – at times – see dollar signs as well as birdies and bogeys when they take in the scoreboard.
How could they not. In the fading light of a Florida Sunday afternoon someone will walk off the 18th green at the CME Group Tour Championship and into history. Someone will collect the largest prize ever in women’s golf. And Monday they will wake up refreshing that app.