After leading the CME Group Tour Championship for four days, it all came down to the $1.5 million moment for Sei Young Kim. She needed to two-putt from 25 feet on the final hole at the Tiburón Golf Club to get into a playoff with England's Charley Hull for the record $1.5 million first prize.
The tension of the moment hung heavy in the humid Florida air. No woman had ever had one putt for so much money.
But instead of two-putting, Kim’s ball found the bottom of the cup for the most important birdie she’s ever made – and one of the more consequential in the history of women’s golf.
For the record of the largest first prize in women’s golf, that 25-foot putt earned Kim $60,000 for each foot it travelled to the cup.
Everything about this final round was remarkable, unfolding with a drama that matched the sense of history surrounding the tournament.
Hull birdied the final three holes and five of the last seven to get into the clubhouse at 17 under par 261 to put the pressure on Kim, who had led after each of the first three rounds. Danielle Kang made a charge with a 31 on the front nine and an eagle on No. 17.
But Kim was up to the task, closing with a 70 to be at 18-under par 270 – one stroke better and more than $1 million richer than Hull, who collected $480,000 for her runner-up effort. Kang tied for third with Nelly Korda, who started the day one stroke behind Kim.
It was the tenth career LPGA victory for Kim, a 26-year-old South Korean who has notched at least one win on Tour every year since 2015, including the LPGA Mediheal Championship and the Marathon Classic this year. With three wins in 2019, Kim was second only to the four by Rolex Player of the Year Jin Young Ko.
Brooke Henderson was fourth at 273 with Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda and Su Oh at 275. Brittany Altomare and So Yeon Ryu were at 276 while Jin Young Ko, Rookie of the Year Jeongeun Lee6, Ally McDonald, Georgia Hall, Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex and Caroline Masson finished seven strokes back at 277.
“To be honest, I was only aware of Nelly’s position, I didn’t know about Charley,” Kim said about her thoughts over the winning putt.
“I was just trying to two-putt to beat Nelly," Kim said. "I knew it was on a good line, but I didn’t know it was going in. Then I heard the crowd yell."
"Just knowing that I won the greatest prize in the history of women’s golf is a great honour.”
Perhaps as an example of the kind of pressure exerted by a $1.5 million first prize, Kim, who had made only one bogey through the first 56 holes, made her third of the final round on No. 14 yet still had a two-stroke lead with four holes to play. That’s when Kang and Hull made their charges.
Kang, who opened the back nine with seven consecutive pars after her 31 on the front nine, pulled within one stroke of the lead with an eagle on No. 17 that put her at 16-under par. She hit her approach to 15 feet on the final hole but her putt for birdie to get to 17-under par kissed the low lip.
Hull, who won the 2016 CME Group Tour Championship, hit a stellar approach shot to the 18th green and made an 8-foot putt for birdie, putting all the pressure on Kim. But, like Suzann Pettersen’s dramatics at the Solheim Cup, this tournament was decided by a made putt, not a missed one, just another way in which the tournament lived up to its advance billing.
For Kim, who has quietly compiled an impressive resume, this could be the stepping-stone to the one thing missing on her record. She has the most wins of any active LPGA player without a major championship. But this sure felt like winning a major.
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