Jutanugarn, Ko set to decide LPGA player of the year
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) By Lydia Ko's standards, this is a major slump.
She hasn't won in nine starts since mid-July, her best finish being a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. She hasn't been among the top 10 in any of her last five starts and wasn't even in the top 40 in three of those.
Despite all that, all the big prizes - player of the year, money title, scoring title and the yearlong points chase called the Race to the CME Globe - are well within Ko's reach this week. The LPGA Tour season wraps up with the CME Group Tour Championship that starts Thursday, when Ariya Jutanugarn and Ko will basically go head to head for year-end honors.
''Obviously, I'm not coming into this week with the greatest form,'' said Ko, who won the Globe in its inaugural season in 2014 and retained it last year. ''But I still feel like it's been a season where I'm really proud of it. For me to be in this position, to have an opportunity to go for the Globe again - and all the other things - it's a pretty cool position to be in.''
Only a win this week would be enough to give Ko her second straight player-of-the-year award; any other result, and that title goes to Jutanugarn. They come in separated by $17,305 in the money standings, and Ko (69.611) enters with a minuscule edge over In Gee Chun (69.632) for the Vare Trophy presented to the player with the lowest scoring average.
''It would be a pretty special Sunday,'' Ko said.
It's probably going to be anyway, whether that's the case for Ko or someone else. The LPGA got a dream scenario last season, when all the trophies were decided in the final holes on the final day.
Such a scene could repeat itself this week, and the LPGA wouldn't mind some final-hour drama.
''I'm not going to be nervous,'' Jutanugarn said.
The points in the CME Globe standings reset for the final week, so Jutanugarn, Ko and Brooke Henderson all truly control their destinies when it comes to the $1 million bonus that goes to the points champion. Win this week, and the Globe is hers.
''Going into this year it was a big goal of mine to be in the top three and give myself a great opportunity in the final event of the year,'' Henderson said. ''I'm really looking forward to it. I know it'll be a tough week, a tough four rounds, but I know if I get off to a fast start and am able to play my game, maybe good things will happen.''
Jutanugarn turns 21 next week. Still, she's the elder stateswoman among the three who arrived in Naples this week with the most realistic chances of hoisting the CME Globe on Sunday.
''I'm old?'' she asked.
Well, yes, in this example.
Ko, who has been the world's No. 1 player for more than a year and will remain there for the foreseeable future, is 19. Henderson turned 19 in September. Of the nine players with a mathematical chance of finishing atop this year's Race to the CME Globe standings, the oldest - Shanshan Feng - is all of 27.
The average age of the players in that group is 21.9, though this event last year saw a tour veteran prevail.
''Definitely felt like a walk-off home run,'' said defending tournament champion Cristie Kerr, who is 39, essentially meaning she's been alive as long as Jutanugarn and Ko combined. ''Yeah, I've had great memories since I've been back walking around kind of remembering some of the shots I hit or how I felt. I've played pretty well the last couple days, so fingers crossed.''
DIVOTS: Ko won on the Tiburon course in Naples two years ago, finishing at 10-under 278. Kerr's winning score last year was 271. ... As was the case last year, the three players atop the Globe points standings - this time, Jutanugarn, Henderson and Ko - will play together on Thursday.