Plenty of drama, surprises at LPGA finale


NAPLES, Fla. – The drama unfolded in layers in a breakthrough Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Charley Hull won her first LPGA title.

Ariya Jutanugarn won her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first CME Globe $1 million jackpot.

In Gee Chun joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award and Vare Trophy for low scoring average in the same season.

This day of plenty – with so many big prizes handed out – totaled up to one large upset, though.

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko left without any of the important season-long prizes that were up for grabs.

With her brilliant tournament-record 62 Friday, Ko shot to the top of the leaderboard, opening the possibility she could sweep all the prizes Sunday, but it wasn’t meant to be. Ko’s hopes were down to the Vare Trophy late in the final round, but even that was dashed at the very end.

Ko’s scoring average was .001 ahead of Chun until Ko missed a 15-foot birdie chance at the 72nd hole and Chun followed by holing a 9-foot birdie putt.

“It may hurt right now about what happened, but I still feel like it’s been an awesome season,” said Ko, who won five times around the world and maintained her grip on the Rolex world No. 1 ranking from year’s start to finish. “Just so many highs.”

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Ko could have been speaking for all the winners at Tiburon Golf Club.

The day belonged to Hull, but ultimately the season belonged to Jutanugarn.

Hull, the 20-year-old from England, closed with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66, claiming her first LPGA title in her 52nd tour start. At 19-under 269, Hull beat So Yeon Ryu (67) by two shots, securing the victory after Ryu’s approach at the 71st hole thumped to a stop at the base of a 4-foot bunker wall, leading to a bogey.

“Feels great to be a winner on the LPGA tour,” Hull said. “It’s wicked to do it at 20.”

Jutanugarn, who is also just 20 years old, closed with a 69 and tied for fourth.

That was more than good enough to hold off Ko for the CME Globe $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the LPGA money-winning title. Ko, who had to win Sunday to take Player of the Year from Jutanugarn, shot 72 and tied for 10th.

Jutanugarn said she would enjoy spending some of the $1 million she won with her family at Disney World next week, but the Rolex Player of the Year Award is the prize she craved most.

“My dream come true,” Jutanugarn said. “I never think my name can be on this trophy, and, right now, I’m really proud of myself.”

Jutanugarn fashioned a remarkable comeback this season with a tour-best five LPGA victories. As a teen phenom in Thailand, Jutanugarn was labeled a can’t miss star, but she tore up her shoulder in a fall chasing her sister off a tee box at the LPGA Championship in the summer of 2013. She missed eight months healing from shoulder surgery and then struggled in her return. She missed 10 consecutive cuts last year, and just when she looked as if she might be on the rise again this spring, she blew a three-shot lead coming home in the final round of the ANA Inspiration.

Jutanugarn’s five titles included her first major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July.

“Even like last year, when I miss 10 cuts in a row, I really appreciate it,” Jutanugarn said. “Because if that not happen, I’m not going to win all this stuff this year.”

Jutanugarn was named the winner of this year’s LPGA’s Heather Farr Award for perseverance.

Chun closed hard Sunday to overtake Ko for the Vare Trophy, finishing with three consecutive birdies.

The battle was so close, Ko walked to the 18th hole with a scoring average that was .001 better than Chun’s.

Chun, 22, who won the Evian Championship in September to join Se Ri Pak as the only players to claim majors as their first two LPGA titles, suspected her last putt might be to win the Vare Trophy.

“It was pressure for me, but I just try to enjoy my last putt,” Chun said. “Just amazing.”

Ko, still 19, was gracious as ever in the end. She hugged and congratulated Chun, then sought out Jutanugarn, hugging Ariya and her sister, Moriya, and their mother, Narumon.

“It’s been a really fun season, but Ariya played better,” Ko said. “When you play good and somebody plays better, you can’t do much about it. I think there are so many positives. I know that even though I’m not the one holding the trophy, Ariya is such a deserving winner, both of the Player of the Year and the Globe.”