Sei Young Kim hit the putt of her life, a 25-foot birdie on the final hole of the CME Group Tour Championship at Naples, Fla., to win $1.5 million, the richest prize in the history of women’s golf.
Kim closed with a 2-under-par 70 to beat an unlikely foe Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
Charley Hull of England birdied her last three holes for a 66, the last one a 12-footer that gave her a tie for the lead. Kim, who looked shaky in missing three straight birdie chances from 12 feet, tugged her approach to the top of a crown at the bag of the green. The winning putt — the money putt — was hit with perfect pace and broke sharply to the right as Kim pumped her fists in disbelief.
She finished a wire-to-wire victory for her third LPGA Tour title of the year and 10th of her career.
This was memorable for the finish and the reward.
Instead of a $500,000 first-place check and a $1 million bonus to a season points race, CME Globe wanted to award $1.5 million in official money to any of the 60 players who qualified for the season finale. That’s $500,000 more than the previous record prize, $1 million at the US Women’s Open.
Kim, who never trailed during the final round, was feeling the heat coming down the stretch as Danielle Kang and then Hull took aim.
Kang, who made five birdies on the front nine, went quiet on the back until making a 30-foot eagle putt on the 17th. She hit 4-iron into 15 feet on the final hole, and her birdie attempt to tie for the lead was short. She closed with a 65.
Hull birdied five of her last seven, and when she saw the leaderboard on the 15th, she figured she would have to birdie everything coming. From short of the green on the par-5 17th, she hit putter up the slope to tap-in range to get within one shot of Kim. And on the 18th, she walked in the birdie putt.
Kim thought her biggest threat was Nelly Korda, who started one shot behind. Korda stalled with two hooked tee shots, the second one hurting her chances at a birdie on the 17th.
Walking up the 18th, Kim realized Hull had tied her.
“I didn’t know Charley finished at 17 [under],” Kim said at the trophy presentation. “What if I couldn’t make it? I could go to a playoff. It’s not good for me. It was really nervous when walking through hole 18. I was like: ‘OK, not a big deal. Try to play like a practice round.’ Even then, I was really nervous.”
She set nerves aside and made the only putt that mattered. The $1.5 million was more than she had made all year.
Kim finished at 18-under 270 and finished No. 2 on the LPGA money list behind Jin Young Ko, who tied for 11th and still had no complaints about her season. Ko won LPGA player of the year, the money title and the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
Ko won four times this year, including two majors.
Hull was an example of how the format change turned the Tour Championship into a free-for-all. She had only one top 10 this year and was No. 51 in the Race to CME Globe. A year ago, she wouldn’t have been eligible for the $1 million bonus.
“I gave it my best shot,” said Hull, who won $480,000 for being runner-up. She made $405,961 in her previous 21 events this year.
Korda, the highest-ranked American who had a chance to get to No. 2 in the world with a victory, tied for the lead with a birdie on the fourth hole. But she began to fall back by failing to birdie the par-5 sixth, scrambling for bogey on No. 9 and making a careless bogey on the 11th that put her three shots behind.
On both par 5s on the back nine, she hit tee shots well left, leading to bogey at No. 14.
“I thought about it once today,” Korda said of the prize. “I was just out there trying to play some golf.”
She birdied the last hole for a 71 to tie for third with Kang. Brooke Henderson shot 67 and finished alone in fifth.
PGA — Tyler Duncan made a 12-foot putt on the second hole of a playoff with Webb Simpson in the RSM Classic at St. Simons Island, Ga., for his first PGA Tour title.
Playing two groups ahead of Simpson on Sea Island’s Seaside Course, Duncan birdied three of the last four holes in regulation for a 5-under 65. He two-putted the par-5 15h for a birdie, made a 6-footer on the par-3 17th and a 25-footer on the par-4 18th.
Simpson birdied 15 and 16 and closed with two pars, making a 5-footer on 18 to match Duncan at 19-under 263. They played the 18th twice in the playoff, matching pars on the first extra hole.
The 30-year-old Duncan regained his PGA Tour card with a 12th-place finish in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals after finishing 163rd in the FedEx Cup standings. He shot a 61 on Friday.
Sebastian Munoz was a stroke back after a 68.
Brendon Todd, seeking his third straight PGA Tour victory, was fourth at 16 under after a 72. He took a two-stroke lead into the final round. This was the 11th and final tournament of the Fall Series. The 2020 PGA Tour season resumes in January.
European — Jon Rahm is $5 million richer after capturing the Race to Dubai title on the European Tour by winning the season-ending World Tour Championship at Dubai with a birdie on the final hole.
The world No. 5 got up and down from a greenside bunker at the 18th hole to win the tournament by a stroke from Tommy Fleetwood, who also would have become European No. 1 with a win on the Earth Course.
Rahm, who started the final round tied for the lead with Mike Lorenzo-Vera, led by six shots after birdieing five of his first seven holes.
However, Fleetwood — playing one group ahead — birdied five of his last seven holes, with his tap-in birdie at No. 18 giving him a 7-under 65 and tying for the lead with Rahm as the Spaniard was putting on the 17th green.
Rahm’s birdie putt there came up a few centimeters short so he needed a birdie on the par-5 last to finish ahead of Fleetwood. His drive was perfect, his approach found the bunker, but he chipped out to 4 feet and rolled in the putt for a 68 as Fleetwood watched in the scorer’s tent.
Rahm said something Jack Nicklaus said when the 18-time major champion spoke about his British Open win in 1966 were his inspiration as he stood on the 16th tee.
“I heard Jack said once, about the Open Championship in Muirfield when he won, he told himself if you finish 3-4-4, you win,” Rahm said. “I told myself, ‘Jon, you’re on 16, one-shot lead, finish 4-3-4, you win the tournament.’ And I played three great holes.”
Rahm, who finished 19 under par overall, earned $3 million for winning the event, and a bonus of $2 million for winning the Race to Dubai.
Rahm is only the second Spaniard to finish a season as European Tour’s No. 1 player, after the late Seve Ballesteros.