The LPGA will have a $2 million winner this week. You read that correctly. The top 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe standings will face off in Naples, Fla., for the CME Group Tour Championship. Record purses and epic play give four women the opportunity to break the single-season earnings record. The top two, Lilia Vu and Allisen Corpuz have a chance to break the $5 million mark for the season with a win.
Vu or Celine Boutier can reach five wins with a victory at the final event and either can take home the prestigious Rolex Player of the Year honors. The purse increases the LPGA have witnessed in 2022 and 2023 are great, and with that $2 million first-place check, there are still approximately 20 women who can win the money title. Six players currently have more than two million in earnings, 22 have earned over a million dollars and this may not sound like much, but nearly 100 players will finish the season with over $200,000 in the bank.
But alongside cash comes pressure. Four past champions are in the field along with 22 of the top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Twenty-two of the 23 winners from this season will also compete for the impressive first-place check.
Tiburón Golf Club has hosted all nine previous editions, and the Gold Course is a par-72 design by Greg Norman that stretches to 6,556 yards. It has a classic complement of four par 3s and 5s and 10 par 4s, but water comes into play on 17 of the 18 holes. All 18 holes have bunkers, and the course is covered in Bermudagrass
With such a difficult test and an elite field, how can we possibly separate the betting board and predict a couple of contenders? If you look closely at the past nine years, you will see a couple of trends. The average winning score is 17-under. Since every swing faces a double bogey opportunity with all that water in play, players must accumulate 20 or more sub-par scores to win.
But not every player in the field possesses that level of firepower. When you look at the scoring of last year’s title contenders, you can see they took advantage of the par 5s. The 2022 winner Lydia Ko played the par 5s in 5-under with multiple bogeys. Jennifer Kupcho, Nelly Korda, Georgia Hall and Charley Hull are the best par-5 players on Tour so it’s no surprise that Hall and Hull have seven top-25 finishes at Tiburón in the past four years.
When you consider course history, a few other names stand out. Jin Young Ko has two CME Group Tour Championship wins in the last three years, and Sei Young Kim has four top-25 results in her last four starts. Ko is known for her approach acumen and accuracy is a big part of contending at CME. Players such as Minjee Lee who recently won and Ruoning Yin are the best iron players on the LPGA in 2023. How about Hae Ran Ryu? She won this fall and finished 12th last week in Tampa to earn Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. Her form coming into her first CME Group Tour Championship is excellent.
One more interesting comparison is greens in regulation and fairways hit. Twelve players finished in the top 10 last year, and they all hit 74.6% of their greens in regulation and 91.4% of their fairways. That kind of incredible accuracy is the reason why Lydia Ko won, and Leona Maguire finished runner-up. Maguire has been matching her accuracy from a year ago again in 2023. She hits an average of 80% of her fairways and 70% of her greens in regulation. Hyo Joo Kim, Corpuz and Megan Khang are also in that category.
Corpuz is the only player who can say they have cashed a check for $2 million this year. Her victory at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Women’s Open earned the same amount. Does winning that large of a purse give her an advantage? Not as much as her ball striking does. But converting birdie opportunities will be key and those 20+ birdies will require a fantastic flatstick. Kim, Xiyu Lin and Vu are the best in this field at capitalizing on their birdie opportunities.
Vu just won on Sunday at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. Can she go back-to-back? If she did that would mean five wins and Rolex Player of the Year honors. The two-time major champion is having a banner year and she’s just getting started. Will anyone else be able to finish the year off in a similar style? Stay tuned this weekend and pay attention to the names mentioned. They should all be contending on Sunday afternoon at the CME Group Tour Championship.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA TOUR for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.