NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko and Inbee Park are threatening to take their battle for the LPGA’s biggest prizes down to the final shot Sunday at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
The tournament trophy, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking are all still hanging in the balance for these two in a potentially dramatic conclusion at Tiburon Golf Club.
If Ko or Park has a hot round Sunday, it could lead to an epic sweep.
“It’s going to be great TV and theater,” said Stacy Lewis, who remains in the hunt for the Tour Championship and the CME Globe. “That's what you want at the end of the year.
“I love the Globe Race. I love the drama that it creates. It gives media and TV, gives everybody something to talk about. That's what we need with our tour.”
Cristie Kerr shot a 6-under-par 66 Saturday to take a share of the third-round lead of the CME Group Tour Championship with Ha Na Jang (69). They’re at 13 under overall, two shots ahead of Ko (69) and Gerina Piller (67) and three ahead of Lexi Thompson (67), Brittany Lincicome (68) and Karine Icher (68).
Park made a nice move Saturday with her putter heating up. She shot 67 to move four shots off the lead. She finally got comfortable on these Bermuda greens, rolling in 40-foot birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes.
Ko and Park remain first and second in projected CME points in the battle for the Globe and $1 million jackpot. Thompson jumped to third in projected points to give herself a shot at the big payday with Lewis fourth in projected points.
The battles for Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, money title and Rolex world No. 1 ranking are narrowed down to Ko and Park.
If Ko or Park win the CME Group Tour Championship, they’ll likely sweep all the big prizes.
Ko won both the Tour Championship and the Globe’s $1 million payout last year. The $1.5 million payday was the richest in the history of women’s golf. How would she like to repeat the feat?
“It would be awesome,” Ko said. “When you defend something or do something back to back, it's always cool to do that.
“There's still a lot of golf to be played. Inbee is playing great, so are the other girls. You can't take anyone out of it. I’ve just got to focus on my game. I think that's all I can do from here.”
How close are these battles for the season-long awards? The scenarios are dizzying.
Ko is just three points ahead of Park in Rolex Player of the Year points (276-273) and Park entered the week just .016 average strokes ahead of Ko in scoring average.
The races are so close, Ko and Park could actually end up in a playoff for the CME Group Tour Championship that would also decide the CME Globe winner. Or, they could end up in a playoff just for the CME Globe after the CME Tour Championship winner is crowned.
If separate playoffs are required for the CME Group Tour Championship and the CME Globe, the Tour Championship playoff would begin first with a return to the 18th tee. The CME Globe playoff would follow.
Ko and Park could also end up tied for Rolex Player of the Year and share the award. There’s no playing off if they tie for that.
“We both had really, really good seasons and somebody is going to be No. 1 and somebody is going to become No. 2,” Park said. “That's just the way it is. I'm just trying to tell myself I had a really good enough season this year. I've earned what I wanted to earn, what I wanted to achieve. The rest is just a bonus.”
Ko was asked if this big Sunday finale is fun, or if it is agonizing.
“You can kind of look at it two ways,” Ko said. “The positive way is I'm glad, and I should be proud, that I'm in this position. Anything can happen. If I play well, it might end up being a good day where I'm holding a couple trophies. At the same time, because everything is on the line, there is more added pressure.
“I think it's more kind of those first couple holes where you do get nervous anyway, but to know at the end of the 18th hole, there could be a lot of things on the line, a little bit more added pressure ... that's why I'm not going to not think about all that. I think that's what I did today. I wasn't thinking about what might be happening tomorrow.”
The possibilities are dizzying.