RICHMOND, Texas (AP)—Jiyai Shin can become the first rookie in more than threedecades to win the Player of the Year award with a strong performance at theLPGA Tour Championship, which begins Thursday just outside of Houston.
The 21-year-old Korean will face a star-packed field at The HoustonianCountry Club, where the $225,000 first prize would help her end Lorena Ochoa’sreign over the women’s tour. Ochoa has been the player of the year the pastthree seasons.
Shin won three times last year as a nonmember of the LPGA Tour, includingthe Women’s British Open, and followed with three more wins and 11 top-10finishes this year.Michelle Wie signs autographs …
AP - Nov 18, 3:04 pm EST
“I started the year off with my goal to win rookie of the year and now Ihave a chance for player of the year,” Shin said. “That makes me happy.”
Michelle Wie is also in the field, coming off her first professional winlast week in Mexico, which might help deflect attention from the battle forPlayer of the Year.
There are other story lines running under the tournament, including Ochoa’supcoming wedding to the CEO of her largest sponsor, AeroMexico, and the presenceof third-ranked Christie Kerr and young superstar Paula Creamer.
Wie hopes that it doesn’t take nearly as long for her second victory as itdid her first. Her win in Mexico gave the sport a desperately needed boost,coming just a few days before word leaked out that the calendar will be trimmedto only 24 events next season.
“I went through some ups and downs, but it was a great learning experiencefor me this year,” Wie said. “For sure it’s (pressure) definitely off my backand I think hopefully life will be better, but I still have a lot of work todo.”
New commissioner Michael Wahn saw firsthand how important Wie could be torevitalizing the tour when he attended a pro-am party Tuesday night.
“I came in late and when I walked in, I noticed the bidding was up to$22,000,” Wahn said. “I asked somebody what they were bidding on and theysaid, ‘They’re bidding to play golf with Michelle Wie.’
“Now, that’s star power right there,” he said of the winning bid of$25,000. “It’s going to be a very exciting week and it could be a very excitingcouple of years.”
Ochoa will be trying for her fourth win this year, which would guarantee heranother Player of the Year award, but anything else would mean she needs helpfrom other players.
“It’s been a really good year for me in ways, sometimes difficult on thegolf course, but I’m very happy,” Ochoa said. “I have a lot of things to focuson off the golf course. I’m just going to try to enjoy the week and then getready for the wedding.”
Natalie Gulbis withdrew early Wednesday with an undisclosed illness.