New Challengers Make CME More than Two-Woman Show
The LPGA is going for its big finish this Sunday, following a fun year of suspenseful week-to-week final rounds. It started in the Bahamas a few months ago, which I have always thought is a perfect place to start almost anything, especially a golf season. From there, we’ve been taken on a tour of golf’s most exquisite venues around the world, inching farther and farther north as the weather grew more to our liking. The LPGA is a travelogue that Rick Steeves would love. But, as I said, this is CME week, the biggest deal of the year in tangible terms. Thanks to its two million dollar purse, Â the tournament is rivaeld only by the Women’s U.S. Open. It is also the final event of the year, and has the power to alter the rankings as few tournaments could.
At the 36 hole mark, I thought it had boiled down to two players we would expect to see standing at the end in a high stakes game, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn. It was all set up for a duel in the splendor of the Tiburon Golf Club in the sunny climate of Naples, Florida. However, if you blinked while following the third round’s progress in this year’s CME, you will find that everything has changed. Last year’s sorceress of the links, Lydia Ko, is not leading. Neither is 2015’s juggernaut, Jutanugarn. And who has upset the apple cart in this most financially prestigious of tournaments? Charley Hull, of course. She now leads the CME Group Tour Championship, once called the CME Group Titleholders, by one.
Charley Hull, the whiz kid from the UK? That’s the one. She may be opting for the best moment ever for a professional golfer to break through. It was only a matter of time. She’s phenomenal, but whiz kids don’t usually choose a tournament where the winner takes home half a million to have a coming of age party. Charging to the front from 5 strokes back, a move up the board that would make Arnold Palmer proud, Charley has arrived as the real thing, a grown-up real thing. And she’s not the only interloper throwing the CME into doubt and threatening to rob Ko and Jutanugarn of their “Queen for a Day” moment. One stroke behind is Brittany Lincicome. I didn’t even notice that she was in the tournament until she started beating up on it. Also at minus 12 is Korea’s So Yeon Ru. Then comes Jutanugarn and Ko at minus 11. Sitting at minus 11 might be a good place for a charge, but the two favorites are sharing the spot with Lizette Salas and In Gee Chun. Lizette has already broken the victory barrier, but has had some listless golf moments since. The beauty of a tournament like CME is that it can rejuvenate a so-so or bad year in just four short days. At 10 under come Mo Martin, Amy Yang, and Beatriz Recari if Spain. So, forget it, ladies. Anyone within a group of about 15 could run away with this thing.
That’s great for viewership, and the venue doesn’t hurt much, either. The Tiburon’s two courses, the Gold and the Black, look as if they were poured out onto the landscape like cream. The site describes the courses as “sophisticated and alluring,” and it’s nice to see a club that”s not guilty of false advertising. When the day is done, someone is going to be far richer than she was last week. She will be ranked very highly among the world’s pros, and she might be ranked number one. From the Silk of the Bahamas to the CME Group in Naples, the LPGA couldn’t have arranged it better, and the leaderboard couldn’t be tighter