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A. Jutanugarn could win, literally, everything at LPGA finale

Ariya Jutanugarn
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NAPLES, Fla. – Ariya Jutanugarn may need a wheelbarrow to haul away all the awards she is poised to claim at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship this week.

She could sweep every important honor.

The 22-year-old Thai could walk away looking as if she is dominating the tour.

She isn’t, though.

Nobody’s dominating the tour these days, not really. The LPGA is settling into a period of unequivocal parity.

It’s tougher than ever to win.

That’s the marvel of what Jutanugarn is doing with this potentially epic sweep. She has won just three times in 2018, equaling Sung Hyun Park for most victories.

If Jutanugarn or Park don’t win this week, it will mark back-to-back years that no LPGA player has been able to win more than three times in a season. That’s never happened since the tour was founded 68 years ago.

Twenty-five different players have won this year. That’s more winners in a single season in almost a quarter of a century, since 26 different winners won in 1995.

There were also 10 first-time winners this year. That’s the most in more than a decade, since there were 11 first-time winners in ’05.

The Rolex world No. 1 ranking has changed hands five times over the last year.

“It’s getting much tougher to win,” said Lydia Ko, the former world No. 1 who ended a 19-month victory drought winning the Mediheal Championship outside San Francisco back in April. “The amount of talent on our tour is incredible. And for players who have had multiple wins within the season, how great have they been? It inspires us and drives us to play better and work harder.”

Jutanugarn has already clinched the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the LPGA money title and the Rolex Annika Major Award. She need only avoid a major collapse this week to assure she wins the Vare Trophy for low scoring average.

Jin Young Ko has to finish about 15 strokes ahead of Jutanugarn to have a chance to take the Vare Trophy from her. Minjee Lee has to finish about 20 strokes ahead of Jutanugarn to win it.

Jutanugarn is also the favorite to win the season-long Race to the CME Globe and its $1 million jackpot. She leads the point-standings after the re-set going into this week’s finish. She’s one of only 12 players who can claim the jackpot, one of just five who is guaranteed to win it with a victory this week.

Nobody has ever won the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy, the LPGA money title and Race to the CME Globe in the same season. Jutanugarn could do all of that while also ending the season as the Rolex world No. 1.

While the Thai sensation isn’t piling up wins this year, she’s a fixture on leaderboards, just about a constant weekend presence with a chance to win. Nobody has been more consistent.

With her second-place finish at the Blue Bay LPGA last weekend, Jutanugarn clinched yet another award, the LPGA’s newest. She claimed the Leaders Cosmetics Top 10 competition with her 16th top-10 finish in 27 starts.

“It’s great to become the first player to get my name on this trophy,” Jutanugarn said. “I just do my best. It feels good to win awards, but also I feel like I have so much fun, because this game is really a challenge to me, and I still can improve myself every day, no matter how many titles I win.”

Jutanugarn may be tough to beat this week. She has some good history at Tiburon Golf Club. She won the tournament last year, and she claimed the $1 million CME Globe jackpot the year before.

“I've been playing a lot of good weeks this year, even when I did not win the tournament,” Jutanugarn said of her consistency. “I'm really proud of myself.”