Kerr, Choi racing for 2010 awards in Orlando

Na Yeon Choi (left) and Cristie Kerr are still in the running for a number of year-end awards this week at Grand Cypress.

Na Yeon Choi (left) and Cristie Kerr are still in the running for a number of year-end awards this week at Grand Cypress.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Na Yeon Choi wasn’t immediately convinced Saturday that she had won the 2010 money list title. Walking out of the scorer’s tent at Grand Cypress Golf Club, Choi politely shook off questions about how it felt to end the season atop the list before making her way through a long line of autograph seekers.

Halfway through the line, Choi was approached again, and this time, albeit in disbelief, accepted that at least one of the three races she’s still in the running for had come to a close in her favor. Choi, who was locked in battle with Jiyai Shin for leading money winner, claimed the title as Shin posted a third-round 4-over 76 to miss the second cut. With a big grin, Choi immediately broke it down to simpler terms.

“That means I got a lot of money this year, right?”

Yes, that would be correct. At the beginning of the season, Choi only had her eye on a top-5 finish on the money list, mostly to better her sixth-place standing from last year.

Slowly but surely, LPGA players are finding closure to take into the off-season as end of the year races draw to a close. The money list title was one of four races still raging this week at the LPGA season finale. Still to go is Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy and the race to finish the season as the top-ranked player in the Rolex rankings.

If the players in contention are preoccupied by the titles at stake, they certainly aren’t showing it here.

“I wasn’t nervous any days,” Choi said after her round. “You know, just my job is hitting balls, not think about money list or Vare Trophy. I just go out there and play my game.”

Six players began the week with an opportunity to claim the No. 1 ranking, but as Shin and Ai Miyazato missed the cut Saturday, that number was whittled to four. Only Choi, Cristie Kerr (currently T-3), Suzann Pettersen (T-16) and Yani Tseng (T-29) remain in that race.

Pettersen is projected to earn the top ranking with a win or a second-place finish, and Kerr would get it only with a victory. Choi or Tseng are projected to rise to the top with a win but only if Pettersen would finish third or worse.

With so many calculations floating through the air at Grand Cypress, there is talk of little else. Easy to forget there’s actually a golf tournament on the line this week.

“Tomorrow is what it is,” Kerr said. “It’s the last tournament. It’s the last round of the year. I think we are fortunate that we are writing some good stories about it.”

• • •

Only Kerr and Choi remain in the running for the Vare Trophy, given to the player with the lowest stroke average of the year. Kerr, with a scoring average of 69.90, has ground to make up on Choi, who holds a slight advantage at 69.87. LPGA officials have projected that in order to win that award, Kerr must beat Choi by seven shots this week. She already is four shots ahead going into Sunday.

Kerr is the only player to have broken par all three rounds this week on a course that some are beginning to comparing to a U.S. Open venue. She has put up three consecutive rounds of 1-under 71.

“This course is tough,” Kerr said. “The par 3s are kind of awkward. The greens are really skinny and they are angled funny.”

 As Kerr surged, Tseng struggled just to stay afloat. The winner of two majors this season – and normally a player who rises to the occassion on difficult set-ups – Tseng rode the cut line for much of the day, birdieing the 17th to put herself safely inside the line heading to the final hole. She promptly hung a 3-wood into a right bunker at the short par 4, setting off a chain of events that led to a sloppy bogey and cause for concern about making it to Sunday.

“You never know on this golf course,” Tseng said as the cutline fluctuated. She would end up making the cut on the number.

• • •

At the beginning of the week, Tseng held the top spot in perhaps the most coveted race of all: Player of the Year. Choi and Kerr trail her by 14 and 15 points, respectively, meaning either player would have to win to take that title. If neither win, Tseng will hold on to the top spot.

If Kerr can pull off the feat, it would make her the first American player to do so since Beth Daniel in 1994. Kerr was still in high school then, but remembers it clearly.

“I was addicted to golf back then, and I’m addicted to golf now,” she said. “It’s a wonderful game. It can be cruel sometimes, but it’s a wonderful game.”

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