APLES, Fla. (AP) — The LPGA Tour season’s Rolex Player of the Year race has come down to the final round.
Following four players tied for the lead after the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort on Saturday, the winner would receive $1.5 million.
Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko are in a tie for Player of the Year, and they are the only two players who can win it.
With Korda and Ko are second-round leader Celine Boutier and Nasa Hataoka, who shot a final-nine 29 to score an 8-under 64 and jump to the top of the leaderboard.
Ko performed her own vaulting, making seven consecutive birdies on the front nine before a three-putt on No. 9 resulted in a bogey and nine consecutive pars on the back nine.
“Playing seven in a row birdies was a lot of joy,” she remarked. “I had the impression that I could make every putt on the front nine.”
“I saw some explosives drop, but that’s common for Jin Young,” Korda, who was in the group behind her, explained.
Ko said she still has discomfort in her left wrist, but she’s been taking medication and having it bandaged this week. She hasn’t had an MRI on it yet, but she intends to when she returns to South Korea. Because of her wrist, Ko isn’t swinging a club as often as she used to, but she is trying to avoid hitting shots into the green.
“I had to stiffen up to impact, so it’s going to be more difficult and painful here,” Ko explained. “So I was looking for the down grain from the tee shot to the fairway, and then I had to — hitting down grain to down grain, not into grain, because I really want to keep my wrist here.”
Korda started slowly, bogeying No. 12 to fall back, but then birdied No. 14 and made a significant move on No. 17 with a short eagle putt after hitting a 9-iron from 145 yards.
“I struck it flawlessly because it was so downwind,” Korda added.
Korda made bogey on No. 12 after hitting her ball left on the par-3 and landing in some pine straw. She reported the ball moved as she prepared to hit the stroke, then returned to its original place. She summoned a rules official, who watched the footage and determined that no punishment would be imposed. Korda’s second shot landed a few feet short of the hole, but she missed the par putt.
She admitted, “That situation on the par-3 kind of worried me a little.”
On her back nine, Hataoka replicated Ko’s front-nine magic, making seven birdies, including the final five holes.
“I wasn’t stroking my putt very well on the first nine,” she said, “but I was patient with it.” “This week, I was more concentrated with my routine, which improved my game today, this week.”
Gaby Lopez, who sits a stroke behind Mina Harigae, had a three-hole finish as tumultuous as the windy conditions.
Lopez hit a double-bogey on the par-3 16th hole, but recovered both shots with an eagle on No. 17 that was punctuated by a spectacular fist pump. However, after hitting her second shot in the water on No. 18, she gave another back that could have been even worse. She saved bogie with a 5-footer.
“I had a poor swing on 16 and it got me into trouble,” Lopez explained. “I came out of there with a double bogey and remained calm.” I knew I was hitting the appropriate shots and playing in the manner that I desired.
“When I got to 17, I hit a beautiful drive, a beautiful 5-iron, and it went in.” I attempted to maintain my composure throughout the day. Throughout the tournament, I attempted to maintain my composure. When I bring this emotion up, I can’t seem to stop myself. I believe I dragged it into number 18. It was difficult to maintain composure. But, at the same time, it’s something I really enjoy about my game, and it’s something I really embrace.”
Boutier’s approach shots weren’t as close to the hole as they had been in her back-to-back 65s, which set the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record. With bogeys on Nos. 12 and 16 — both par 3s — she lost the lead, but recovered with a birdie on No. 17.
“It was rough out there,” she admitted. “I didn’t strike it as good as the previous two days.” I had a hard time making some birdies.
“I mean, it was fairly windy, but my putting was a little bit unsatisfactory.”
With 18 holes left in the season, Lexi Thompson, who also bogeyed No. 18, Leona Maguire, and Nanna Koerstz Madsen are all only two shots back.
The field was exposed to more wind on Saturday than on Friday, but they didn’t play favoured lies in the third round after doing so in the first two. As the afternoon progressed, the wind became stronger, and a brief storm of rain added to the difficulty.