NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship isn’t a major, but Sunday’s finish might be more pressure-packed for the game’s best players.
No, Tiburon Golf Club, where birdies are plentiful, isn’t set up like a major championship test, but the weight of what’s at stake in the season finale more than rivals what’s at stake in any of the women’s five majors.
For Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, there is more than the biggest payday in women’s golf hanging in the balance, with $1 million going to the winner of the CME Globe jackpot and $500,000 to the winner of the Tour Championship.
There is arguably more history to be won than in any single major.
The Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average are up for grabs.
On their own, these are coveted prizes, each marking a player as among the best who ever played. They are each worth a Hall of Fame point.
And both of those awards ride on Sunday’s outcome.
As does the 2016 LPGA money-winning title, another valued honor among pros, who are by definition measured by their money-making prowess.
Charley Hull took the lead Saturday at the CME Group Tour Championship, posting a 6-under-par 66 to move to 13 under overall. That’s one shot better than So Yeon Ryu (69) and Brittany Lincicome (66).
But Ko (73) and Jutanugarn (65) are also in the mix, two shots behind Hull.
If Ko wins the CME Group Tour Championship, she will sweep all the year’s major awards. She’ll take home $1.5 million as the Tour Championship winner and CME Globe winner. She’ll take home the Rolex Player of the Year title for the second time, and she’ll take home the Vare Trophy and money title.
If Ko doesn’t win, Jutanugarn will be the Rolex Player of the Year.
Jutanugarn is also in the mix to take home $1.5 million as winner of the Tour Championship and CME Globe and to take home the money title. The Vare Trophy is about all Jutanugarn isn’t in line to take home Sunday. She would need a miracle of a low round to claim the year’s low scoring average.
Hull, Lincicome and reigning Evian Championship winner In Gee Chun are among a logjam of challengers lined up to play spoilers. There are 11 players within three shots of the lead. Chun (68) is tied with Ko and Jutanugarn among players who are two shots back.
If you are Ko and Jutanugarn, how do you approach Sunday’s weighty challenges?
“With the Player of the Year, it’s simple,” Ko said. “I’ve got to win to get it.”
Ko may be tied with Jutanugarn on the CME Group Tour Championship leaderboard, but she trails her in Rolex Player of the Year points. Only a victory gets her past Jutanugarn.
“I’m the chaser,” Ko said. “I think that almost puts less pressure on me, where I’m not thinking about where I am exactly. I’m trying to make as many birdies as I can and give myself those opportunities.”
Jutanugarn has a tour-best five LPGA victories this year, but there’s no guarantee she will take home any of the year’s biggest awards. How is she approaching the challenge?
“I know tomorrow’s going to be a lot of pressure,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m just going to do my best and whatever is going to happen, I still love my year this year.”