NAPLES, Fla. -- After 32 official events, 15 states and 12 countries, the 2019 LPGA Tour season comes to an end this week at the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. From rookies winning majors (looking at you, Jeongeun Lee6) to Team Europe clinching the Solheim Cup, this season had it all.
After months of competing in the season-long Race to the CME, the top 60 points earners will compete for the $5 million purse and the $1.5 million winner's check, the largest single prize in the history of women's golf.
Last year, American Lexi Thompson shot a final-round 70 to finish at 18-under 270 and win the CME Group Tour Championship by four strokes over Nelly Korda. Simultaneously, Ariya Jutanugarn completed a sweep of the top 2018 LPGA awards and pocketed the $1 million Race to the CME bonus.
This year, there's a new format. Unlike last year, when the top 12 in points had a chance to win the $1 million season-long bonus, it's a winner-take-all competition, and any of the top 60 players can claim the top spot of "Race to the CME Globe Champion."
Here's what to watch this week:
Money, money, money
What's at stake this week? $1.5 million. Yes, you read that right: $1.5 million. For the first time in the history of women's golf, the single prize of $1.5 million will be awarded to the winner of this week's tournament.
To win that prize, the players battled it out in a season-long points competition in which LPGA members accumulated points in every official LPGA Tour event. The top 60 points earners secured a spot in the CME Group Tour Championship and a chance to win the largest payday in women's golf. Unlike in previous years, anyone can claim the prize -- not just the top 12 players mathematically eligible, as was the case from 2014 to 2018.
With the entire field competing for a $5 million purse, the CME Group Tour Championship rounds out the 2019 LPGA season in which the players competed for a record $70.2 million in total prize money -- up $7.2 million from 2016 (major tournament prize money at $20.95 million). With Spaniard Carlota Ciganda winning the Aon Risk Reward Challenge and the $1 million prize -- the same amount Brooks Koepka won in August after clinching the challenge for the PGA Tour -- the women's game is starting to catch up to the men's.
Who will win player of the year?
World No. 1? Check. Player of the Year? Check. Most top-10 finishes this season? Check. The list goes on and on for South Korea's Jin Young Ko. All that's left for the two-time major and six-time LPGA circuit winner is to claim the $1.5 million on Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
Despite injuring her ankle three weeks ago during the first round of the Taiwan Swinging Skirts event, Ko is ready to compete in the LPGA finale.
"I'm still worried a little bit," she said during Tuesday's media conference. "Hopefully I'm getting better. But this week is the last, so I will be fine."
This year alone, Ko claimed four victories on the LPGA Tour, including the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship. Topping the LPGA in greens in regulation (79%), Ko said that one of the highlights of this season was when she shot par or better on 114 consecutive holes, beating Tiger Woods for the longest known bogey-free streak.
"That is really special to me," Ko said.
Can Lexi Thompson go back-to-back?
In 2017, Thompson missed a 2-foot putt on the final hole at the CME Group Tour Championship. Although that putt would've given her the tour championship, Thompson still collected the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus. Last year, she ended her then-winless season by shooting a 70 on Sunday and finishing at 18-under-par 270 to beat Korda and claim the CME Tour Championship title.
This year, with the new format for the tournament (no more Race to the CME Globe bonus), the 24-year-old Florida native is ready to claim both the $1.5 million prize and the LPGA finale title.
"I had a lot of good finishes, so I took a lot of positives off of that," Thompson said Tuesday. "I've gone through a few swing changes, a few different putting techniques, and some things are going to work, and some will work for a little bit and fade. That's how golf is. It's always a process. You can never perfect it. That's what I'm going with. I've had a lot of great tournaments. It's been a great year."
Even with her swing changes and putting tweaks, Thompson managed to secure a win at the ShopRite Classic with an eagle on the final hole and placed second at the U.S. Women's Open.
But away from the wins and top achievements on tour this season, Thompson attributes her recent success to finding balance both on and off the golf course and embracing her identity.
"Over the last few months, I've just been happier. I've just tried to be more relaxed and enjoy life and be myself," she said. "Sometimes, we feel like we have to be a certain person for people, but I am who I am. I'm just trying to enjoy life more."
Brooke Henderson feels right at home
Brooke Henderson might be from Canada, but this week, the No. 2-ranked player in the Race to the CME Globe standings is embracing her part-time Florida residence.
For Florida natives, playing at Tiburon Golf Club usually comes with great success. Players such as Thompson and sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda are accustomed to the Bermuda grass greens.
"I think growing up on this type of grass can definitely be beneficial to a lot of players," Henderson said. "I definitely think that growing up on this type of grass is maybe like a secret weapon because it is so different than what I grew up on back in Canada."
In an effort to close the Bermuda grass gap (and bask in the Florida sunshine), Henderson has been spending most of her offseason in Miromar Lakes, Florida, since 2017.
With two wins this season, the Canadian is ready to take on Tiburon Golf Club with friends and family cheering her on all week.
"We love this area, and we actually have made a lot of friends. They're excited to come out and watch me this week," Henderson said. "Hopefully, I can capture some of that adrenaline of the hometown crowd and fuel off it the next few days."