NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko moved into position Friday to pull off a dramatic sweep of all the big prizes up for grabs at the CME Group Tour Championship.
Despite a double bogey on the back nine, Ko shot a 5-under-par 67 to take command of the battle for the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and of her battle with Inbee Park for the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA money-winning title.
At 8 under overall, Ko is also in position to the win the CME Group Tour Championship, sitting two shots behind Ha Na Jang (65) halfway through the season-ending event at Tiburon Golf Club.
Ko took home $1.5 million for winning both the Tour Championship and the Globe last year, the biggest payday in the history of women’s golf. With those other important season-long awards within reach, she is looking to make Sunday epic. She’s four shots ahead of Park (69).
Friday’s effort moved Ko back to first in the CME Globe points projection with Park second.
At tournament’s start, Ko didn’t have to look far to be reminded of what’s at stake this week. A plexiglass cube purported to have $1 million in it was stationed at the first tee box.
“Little less nerves compared to yesterday’s tee shot,” Ko said after Friday’s round.
Ko confessed she wasn’t able to control her shaking hands playing the first hole on Thursday. She snap-hooked her opening tee shot into the scrub brush, and though she managed to save par, she did so shaking all the way.
While putting up a hand on the first green to measure the break of her first putt in her AimPoint routine, Ko couldn’t help noticing her fingers were moving uncontrollably.
“My hand was legitimately shaking,” Ko said.
Ko said she quickly pulled back her hand out of embarrassment before fellow competitors Park and Stacy Lewis could see.
“I didn’t want Inbee or Stacy to go, `Wow, what’s up with her, she’s so nervous,’” Ko said. “The next hole, it got much better. It’s a good thing it went away.”
Ko may be only 18, but she is already a master at appearing composed even when she’s nervous. After Friday’s double bogey at the 15th hole, she laughed to herself, even though it cost her a share of the lead.
“I just try and not think about it anymore, kind of go to the next hole thinking it’s a whole new hole,” Ko said. “I just say `Forget about it.’”
Ko got in trouble after hitting her tee shot into the sandy waste area left of the 15th fairway and then trying to make a great escape. She ended up pulling her second shot at the par 4 into more trouble, behind some brush and had to punch out.
“I played it a little too cute,” Ko said. “I got a little greedy.”
Park played better Friday, but she had her own troubles. She missed a 3½-footer for par at the 18th hole.
“As soon as I hit it, it jumped,” Park said. “I think it went left. I didn’t see any spike marks or anything. It just happens on Bermuda greens. You feel like you can hit a good putt, and it can jump on you.
“I putted a little bit better than yesterday. I made a lot more putts. So, that definitely gives me a possibility that I can putt all right on these Bermuda greens.”
Park isn’t a big fan of slow, grainy Bermuda greens, but she’ll be looking to get her celebrated putting stroke going to catch Ko, who she saw pulling away from her on scoreboards around the course.
“She seems like she really likes this golf course,” Park said. “I’ve got to start liking it a little bit more tomorrow.”