NAPLES, Fla. – Call her the American Rainmaker.
Stacy Lewis is about to step up yet again to end another long drought in American women’s golf.
A year ago, Lewis became the first American in 18 years to win the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year.
Come Sunday, she has all but guaranteed she will become the first American in 19 years to win the Vare Trophy for low scoring average.
If she can win the CME Group Titleholders, Lewis will become the first American in 20 years to win the Vare Trophy and the LPGA money winning list in the same season.
Lewis made it all possible scorching Tiburon Saturday with a tournament record 9-under-par 63 to vault into contention in the season finale. After a couple good putts to save par early, Lewis jump started her round, holing a 5-iron from 177 yards for eagle at the third hole.
“There were about five volunteers up by the green, and all their hands went up in the air,” Lewis said. “That’s how I knew it went in.”
That’s the same 5-iron Lewis used to hit one of the great shots in major championship history. She used that club to carve a clutch shot through the wind over the Road Hole at St. Andrews to set up her birdie-birdie finish to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open in August.
Lewis started the day 11 shots back. She made eight birdies, that eagle and one bogey to jump 29 spots into a tie for fourth.
If Lewis is going to close out 2013 with her fourth LPGA title this season, she knows she will have to close hard. The star-studded leaderboard is bunched tight with seven players within two shots of the lead.
With a 65, Natalie Gulbis seized a share of the 54-hole lead in a bid to win for the first time since her LPGA breakthrough victory at the Evian Masters in ’07. She’s rebounding nicely in a season partially marred by a two-month hiatus recovering from malaria, an illness she contracted in Thailand in her first start of the year.
Gulbis is atop the leaderboard with Gerina Piller (67) and Pornanong Phatlum (67). Just two shots back are Lewis, Lexi Thompson (67), Shanshan Feng (67) and Sandra Gal (74). Three back is Michelle Wie (66) with Inbee Park (69) and Cristie Kerr (71) among players four back.
“It’s a great leaderboard,” Park said. “There are so many good players up there, it just makes your win tougher.”
There’s plenty to motivate Lewis beyond the $700,000 first-place check, the largest in women’s golf.
As long as Suzann Pettersen doesn’t post a score 17 shots better than hers, Lewis will win the Vare Trophy.
Lewis is $498,883 behind Park on the money list, but that big first-place check would assure her the money title no matter what Park does.
No American has won the Vare Trophy since Beth Daniel in 1994. No American has won the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same season since Betsy King in 1993.
Lewis knows her LPGA history, and she appreciates the record Daniel, King and other Americans built.
“Coming out on tour, did I ever think I could win any of these awards?” Lewis said. “Absolutely not. Just to be in the running is a huge honor.
“As a kid, I don't think you really appreciate what people did before you, and the opportunities you have. But, definitely, once I got on tour, I made it a point to get to know the older players, the Hall of Famers. I made it a point to do that because I wanted to know what it was like for them. What did they have to go through? . . . . To have my name as a part of history is a huge honor and hopefully I take care of that tomorrow.”