Lots at stake for Lexi Thompson, others at CME Group Tour Championship

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Lots at stake for Lexi Thompson, others at CME Group Tour Championship

LPGA Tour

Lots at stake for Lexi Thompson, others at CME Group Tour Championship

NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson was on the tee at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday. It was the only way the tour’s top American could squeeze in 18 holes before the onslaught of off-the-course obligations began. After lunch, she met with print media at 1 p.m. followed by a TV sit-down. At 3 p.m. she took part in a tournament photo call. From 4-6 p.m., she was scheduled to shoot a commercial for the LPGA before attending the tournament’s pro-am party.

The CME Group Tour Championship isn’t a major, but there’s enough on the line this week in south Florida to make it feel like one. With one strong week, Thompson could end a tumultuous 2017 in epic fashion, sweeping the Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy (lowest scoring average) and $1 million CME Globe bonus.

Of course, several other players could say the same. It’s a wide-open race to the finish with four players in position to claim POY honors with a victory: So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng, Sung Hyun Park and Thompson. All four of those players, plus Brooke Henderson, would take the million-dollar bonus with a win. The top 12 in the CME points race have a mathematical chance.

In the Vare Trophy race, Thompson (69.147) holds a 0.112 lead over Park. The powerful rookie must best Thompson by nine strokes to edge her out (10 strokes if Thompson reaches 10-under or more). Both the Vare Trophy and POY races are worth one point toward the 27 needed for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

With the once-prodigious Lydia Ko stuck in a winless drought, four different players have tried on No. 1 since the Kiwi was overtaken on June 11. The last time the LPGA experienced such turnover at the top was back in 2010 after Lorena Ochoa retired midseason. Cristie Kerr, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato passed the honor back and forth after Ochoa walked away following 158 consecutive weeks of domination.

Park, who spent one week on top of the world earlier this month, has a chance to join Nancy Lopez (1978) as the only players to win both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season. The South Korean, who only recently learned about Lopez’s achievements, believes winning POY would feel like winning another tournament.

Ryu realized a goal when she became No. 1 for the first time on June 26. She stayed there for 19 weeks but didn’t win a tournament. She is now more motivated than ever to take back that top spot, if only her body will cooperate.

Ryu suffered an injury to her right shoulder in Malaysia, a result of overuse. She was limited to short-game practice in the days leading up this event and played only four holes on Tuesday before retiring to the putting green.

“What I’m more motivated is when I get back to No. 1, I really want to be like well-deserved No. 1,” Ryu said. “Like being in contention, like, more often, pick up the trophy more often. I really want to be stronger next time I become No. 1.”

While Thompson leads the CME Race to the Globe, she hasn’t allowed herself to think about how she might spend the extra $1 million. The winner’s share this week is $500,000, making Sunday a potentially substantial payday.

“Well, I’ve been looking at getting a new car,” said Thompson, who has her eye on the 2018 Corvette Z06.

Thompson’s consistency this season can be traced back to last winter, when she toiled over her short game. She has used the same Bettinardi Queen Bee putter all season and kept her eyes open on the greens (both new developments). In putts per greens in regulation, Thompson rose from 49th in 2016 to eighth this season. In sand saves she jumped from 100th to first, something she also credits to improved putting.

“I made a lot more clutch putts that I needed to make,” said Thompson, who won twice and finished second five times.

Off the course, Thompson dealt with her mother Judy’s bout with uterine cancer. Thompson said her mom was declared cancer-free several months ago. In September after the Evian Championship, she suffered the loss of her grandmother.

Thompson, 22, doesn’t like to talk about the four-stroke penalty at the final-round of the ANA Inspiration. When asked if she thinks about it, Thompson offered a terse “no” and looked away.

A victory at the CME and a sweep of every award that matters on the LPGA wouldn’t erase what happened at the year’s first major, but it would certainly push the memory further back in the recesses of her mind.

The best kind of salve.

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