NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko began her quest for the biggest prize in women’s golf history by hitting a tree and making a bogey on the par 5. The rest of Thursday couldn’t have gone any better at the CME Team Tour Championship.
Ko responded with eight birdies, including a late four in the round at Tiboron Golf Club, to shoot a 7-under 65 and take a one-shot lead in the LPGA Tour season finale.
At stake is more than just the $2 million prize awarded to the winner this week.
Ko has a one-point lead in the race for LPGA Tour Player of the Year. She looks like a lock to win the Vare trophy for lowest scoring average. Both are valuable in her bid to become eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“If I win the trophy, win all the trophies or no trophy… I just want to have a good week,” Coe said. “These opportunities don’t come along very often. I want to try to grab it when it’s there.”
She is ahead of Ko, who has two wins in what she considers her most consistent year on the LPGA Tour.
And behind it are many challengers.
Thailand’s Daniel Kang and Pajari Ananarukarn at 66, Scotland’s Gemma Dryberg and South Korea’s Hyo Kim at 67 and the team at 68 include Nellie Korda and Brooke Henderson.
Korda lost four months this year to a blood clot in her left arm. She’s finally back to full strength and last week’s victory at Pelican Golf Club Beach saw her return to No. 1 in the women’s world rankings.
Henderson had to sit out last week with back pain, and the Canadian wasn’t even sure she would be able to play. But she made adjustments to her swing and a respectable 68 allowed her to get around Tiboron.
Henderson has an outside shot at Player of the Year, though if she were to win, she would have to keep Ko and Minjae Lee from finishing third or worse.
Lee, who set the LPGA Tour record for $3.7 million this season, shot a 71 at Thailand’s Attaya Titkul.
When Ko starts the race, she only laughs by hitting a tree.
“I almost had two tee shots,” he said. “Even though I got out on No. 5, I knew a lot of holes were going to be played in the wind. I tried not to get too upset. The first four holes in the wind were a beast. I knew I could hang in there and be patient. There were going to be a lot of chances.”
“I was able to catch a lot of them on the back nine.”
And that started modestly. She was quick on the chip from the 13th green and watched it run 12 feet from the hole. Ko made the par putt and was out and running making four straight birdies. It helped that two of them were 5s.
Korda gave up an easy birdie chance on the par-5 17th when she drove too long to just 159 yards. But she came up short and couldn’t get up and down. That’s the result of what she finally reveals to have been cheated on so many times.
Korda had a chance at every award until Jin Young Ko defeated her last year, the third consecutive year the South Korean star has won in Tiburon.
It will be difficult to do four in a row. Jin Young Ko opened with 72 as she continued to deal with a sore left wrist.