The major championship run is over this year in women’s golf, but substantial prizes still lie in wait.
The expanded Asian swing begins in China this week with some important awards, meaningful trophies and giant paydays still hanging in the balance.
Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 4 Suzann Pettersen join defending champion Shanshan Feng in the 81-player field at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing beginning Thursday. It’s the start of a stretch run of eight LPGA events in the remainder of the 2014 season, including six on the fall Asian swing. It’s all pointing to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples Nov. 20-23 and a $1 million jackpot awaiting the winner of the season-long CME Race to the Globe.
Lewis tees it up this week looking to set up a major haul at the Rolex awards dinner in Naples. She leads the tour in races for the Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA official money-winning title. No American has swept all three awards since Betsy King in 1993.
“Really, the goal for the rest of the year is looking at those year‑end awards and stuff like that,” Lewis said in her pre-tournament news conference in China. “I definitely want to win tournaments, but those year‑end awards are goals, too.”
Lewis also leads the CME Race to the Globe, the season-long points battle for a $ 1 million jackpot, the largest paycheck in women’s golf. She’s looking to lock up all those prizes by adding to her three victories this season.
“I checked off a lot of goals I had for this year already, and I still have six tournaments left to take it up another notch,” Lewis said. “I have probably more energy than I've had in the last couple years at this time of the year. I'm excited to have a few tournaments left.”
Lewis finished runner up at last year’s Reignwood Classic, losing to Feng by a shot after Feng closed with an eagle.
There’s more at stake for Lewis than a title this week. She will be looking to hold off Park, who is eager to take back the No. 1 ranking Lewis took from her 18 weeks ago, a ranking Park originally took from Lewis last year.
“That would be one of the goals I have this year.” Park said. “I played really good this year, very consistent.”
Park will move back to No. 1 with a victory in China if Lewis finishes solo third or worse.
Park is getting back to her best form, riding a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August. With six victories last year, three of them majors, Park started this season with her own shadow over her. She has two LPGA titles in 2014.
“This time last year, I felt like I was really chased, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.” Park said. “I feel like this year is a much different story, and I am enjoying where I am.”
For Feng, this week is like a major championship. She delivered under enormous pressure winning as the crowd favorite in her homeland a year ago. Expectations are still there in her title defense this week and will be again in three weeks with the tour returning to China for the new Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island.
“I feel a little pressure, of course,” Feng said.
Despite her disappointment losing last year, Lewis understood what Feng’s victory means to China.
“Just having this event in China, we can thank Shanshan for that,” Lewis said. “Her winning here was massive. For her, it was probably a dream come true, to win in her home country like that. It's going to be great for the game of golf here, and it's going to continue to grow. So 10, 15 years from now, you'll see probably a lot of Chinese players coming, like Se Ri and South Korea. I think it's one of those moments that's going to change history down the road.”