There’s much at stake at this week’s LPGA season finale, the CME Group Tour Championship.
The 60 players in the season-long Race to the CME Globe will converge on Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, beginning Thursday and compete for the largest prize in women’s golf, a $5 million purse with $1.5 million going to the winner.
“Everyone would get a really nice Christmas present,” Nelly Korda said Tuesday when asked what she’d do with that kind of money. “I mean, it would be crazy to win that.”
But that’s not all that’s left to be decided: Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors are both still up for grabs.
It’s no surprise that the game’s two biggest stars are at the center of this multi-faceted competition. World No. 1 Korda and No. 2 Jin Young Ko enter this week as the top two players in the Race to the CME Globe – Ko leads Korda by just fewer than 100 points, and both are well ahead of third-place Lydia Ko – but that doesn’t matter. The format for the LPGA’s season finale was changed a couple of years ago, with the field shrinking by 12 players and points being reset so that anyone who wins at Tiburon also wins the Race to the CME Globe.
Jin Young Ko won last year in Naples, grabbing a $1.1 million first-place prize to cap the pandemic-shortened season.
Instead, the biggest non-leaderboard battle between Korda and Jin Young Ko will be for Player of the Year. Unlike the PGA Tour, the LPGA uses a points system to award its player of the year rather than via player vote, and Korda leads Jin Young Ko by just 10 points, 191 to 181. No other player can mathematically be player of the year, with Patty Tavatanakit third at 126 points.
“It’s crazy because usually I come to this event and I’m so far away from that,” Korda said of the Player of the Year award. “I see so many girls that have had an amazing year, and I’m like, OK, I would have to play amazing to even be in contention for that. So, the fact that I’m in contention just shows how well I’ve played this year and shows how much my hard work has been paying off.”
With 30 points handed out to the winner of the CME, Jin Young Ko can pass Korda with a victory. She can also win POY honors by finishing second (12 points) if Korda finishes 10th (one point) or worse (no points are awarded for a non-top-10 finish). If Jin Young Ko finishes second and Korda places ninth, they will be named co-players of the year, which happened in 2017 when So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park tied in points.
“I really want to get the Player of the Year, but I don’t want to play too aggressive … just I will keep doing it what I did to play last couple tournament,” Jin Young Ko said. “Yeah, if I’m playing good I can get the Player of the Year.”
As for the Vare Trophy, which is given to the season-long leader in scoring average, Korda and Jin Young Ko are ineligible, with neither having played enough rounds. In fact, the top three in scoring average are below the 70-round threshold: Korda (68.85), Jin Young Ko (69.03) and Yuka Saso (69.1).
“I’ve kind of come to terms with it,” Korda said. “It’s fine. Honestly, I have not even thought of that as one of my goals in all honesty going into this year. My goal was to contend in majors and be healthy throughout the year, to play to the best of my ability.
“I’m not a player that’s going to go out and be like, OK, I want to win this award, this award, this award.”
Jin Young Ko shared a similar sentiment: “My goal is to win majors.”
That leaves Lydia Ko (69.39) as the frontrunner to lift the award on Sunday. She leads the next eligible player, In Gee Chun (69.71), by just over 0.3 strokes per round.
A few honors have already been clinched: Tavatanakit, one of seven rookies in this week’s CME field, will be the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year and winner of the Rolex Annika Major Award; Hannah Green was announced Tuesday as the recipient of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge’s $1 million prize.