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Lewis set for unexpected start at CME Group Tour Championship

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NAPLES, Fla. – Stacy Lewis rarely sneaks into a tournament.

The former world No. 1, the only American to win the Rolex Player of the Year Award (twice) or Vare Trophy (twice) in the last 25 years, remains a formidable presence in the game, albeit one in transition as a new mom on tour.

But even Lewis didn’t expect to make it into this week’s CME Group Tour Championship.

After withdrawing from the Solheim Cup with a fractured rib two months ago, Lewis fully expected her season was over. She was resigned herself to completely mending for next year while fully devoting herself to her infant daughter, Chesnee.

And then her caddie, Travis Wilson, called two weeks ago, with the LPGA in Japan.

“He said 'I think we’re going to make it into the CME,’” Lewis said. “I was 54th on the CME points list when I thought my year was over. I wasn’t even following the tour. I just assumed I was going to drop out of the top 60 that qualify. I missed six tournaments.”

Wilson did the math and knew Lewis was going to squeeze in as the 60th and final player to make the field. His only question was whether his player would be ready and willing to play.

CME Group Tour Championship: Full-field tee times | Full coverage

“My back felt better, but I didn’t know if I could hit balls,” Lewis said. “I went out the next day, hit some balls, and I felt fine.

“So, I said, 'Let’s give it a go.’”

There were 1.5 million reasons ($$) to try, with the richest first-place check in women’s golf up for grabs in Naples, Florida.

Lewis is a 12-time LPGA winner, but it’s been a challenging year balancing motherhood and competition. She gave birth to her daughter a little more than a year ago. Playing the tour with Chesnee in tow has been the ultimately juggling act, even with help from her husband and mother.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,” Lewis said. “Looking back, I would advise people to take maternity the year after [giving birth]. It was still a good year. I still had a couple good finishes.”

Lewis, 34, came out of the gate firing on all cylinders in her return to the tour this season. She tied for sixth at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, but conceded it was a bit of a mirage. Lewis had two other top 10s the rest of the year. She did learn a lot about how to go about things next year.

“Chesnee gets easier every day,” Lewis said. “She’s walking now. She can feed herself. So, there’s a lot of things she can do herself that she couldn’t do six months ago. There’s more a rhythm to things, and my body’s feeling better. So, I’m excited about next year.”