NAPLES, Fla. – Major championships aren’t this tough to win.
Yes, they’re epic, historically important and pressure-packed, but they aren’t nearly as complexly layered as what Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park are trying to win this week at the CME Group Tour Championship.
Lewis acknowledged feeling nerves on the front nine at Tiburon Golf Club Thursday that she doesn’t typically feel that early in a major.
She sensed the same tension in Park playing alongside her in the first round.
Who can blame them?
There’s more to win and more to lose for these two players.
There’s the Tour Championship title, the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the official money title all hanging in the balance.
Only Lewis and Park teed it up Thursday knowing they could leave with all of that in hand.
They played alongside Lydia Ko, who can’t win all the hardware listed above but can walk away with the richest payday in the history of the women’s game if she takes both the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Tour Championship’s $500,000 first-place check.
It’s all enough to blow a fuse in a player’s circuitry if they get to thinking about it too much.
“Mentally is the hardest part,” Lewis said. “You could see it in Inbee. I don't know if Lydia quite understands all that's going on, but you could see it in Inbee and probably in me, too. We both played some tentative golf today, and, hopefully, we can both free it up as we go throughout the week.”
Lewis said tough early holes added to heightened nerves at the start. She pushed her opening tee shot into the woods.
“You’re worried about making a mistake or a big number,” Lewis said. “That’s the hardest part.”
Julieta Granada seized the first-round lead with a 6-under-par 66, but Lewis moved out front in the mega game within the game with a 69.
Granada can win the Tour Championship and it’s $500,000 first-place check, but she can’t win the $1 million Race to the CME Globe jackpot. Only the top nine in the Globe point standings can win that.
With that 69, Lewis holds the lead in the battle for the Globe and its jackpot. Park and Lydia Ko are positioned next best after posting 71s.
Basically, all Lewis has to do to become the first American since Betsy King in 1993 to sweep the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same season is stay in front of Park on the leaderboard this week.
Park may trail Lewis after the first round, but she’s comfortable with her start.
“I’m just happy that I still have a chance to win everything,” Park said. “I’m going to play very hard the next three days.”
Park, Lewis and Ko got a close-up look at the $1 million jackpot on Wednesday. They were pictured with a plexiglass cube containing the jackpot after their pro-am rounds.
Park was asked if she were thinking about the $1 million prize.
“I think everybody is thinking about it,” Park said.
Granada knows the uniquely difficult challenge of taking home a $1 million tournament paycheck. She was the first woman in history to do so when she won the LPGA Playoffs at ADT in 2006.
Granada was asked how all that money will play on the minds of contenders come Sunday.
“They're tough, and they're good players, so they will just keep playing their game,” Granada said. “I expect them to handle it just fine. I know it's a lot of money, but it's just golf, and you just have to hit one shot at a time.”
Lewis might have felt tension early, but she finished strong. She eagled the 17th hole. She hit a hybrid from 217 yards to 25 feet and made the putt.
Waiting to get this big-bang finish in women’s golf started may have been the hardest part of this week.
“It's nice to be playing and not be talking about it or worrying about it all the time,” Lewis said. “I think we were all kind of a little bit nervous, a little bit hesitant there at the beginning, but we seemed to all kind of settle in.”