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Jin Young Ko wins LPGA's season-ending CME Group, claims money title

NAPLES, Fla. -- Jin Young Ko missed most of the LPGA Tour season and still won the yearlong money title.

That's what a $1.1 million check does.

Ko, the No. 1 player in the world, put an emphatic capper on her truncated year Sunday by shooting a final-round 6-under 66 and winning the CME Group Tour Championship by 5 strokes over Hannah Green and Sei Young Kim.

"I still can't believe it, that I'm here, that I won this tournament," Ko said.

With a birdie on the final hole, the LPGA's final putt of the season, Ko finished at 18 under for her seventh career LPGA win.

Green's final-round 67, on her 24th birthday, helped push her into the second-place tie. Kim, who took a 1-shot lead into the final round, shot 72, which was good enough to clinch Rolex Player of the Year honors. Danielle Kang won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average.

"Feels like a pretty solid accomplishment in 2020, to be honest," Kang said.

Ko started the final round 1 shot back of Kim and opened with a birdie. The key stretch was Ko's run of three straight birdies on the 12th through the 14th -- her longest such run of the week. She left a chance for a fourth in a row just left of the cup on No. 15, then all but wrapped up the win with another birdie on the 16th.

The win wrapped up a wire-to-wire year in the No. 1 spot for Ko, who has held the ranking since July 29, 2019. She moved to $5,600,824 in career earnings, making her the 71st player in LPGA history to cross the $5 million mark.

Her approach Sunday was quite simple: "I just [thought], OK, 18 holes left and then go to home," Ko said.

Ko played only four LPGA events in 2020 -- she competed six times on the Korean LPGA tour while riding out the coronavirus pandemic at home -- but Sunday's win and a check for $487,286 for finishing second in last week's U.S. Women's Open helped push her season earnings to $1,667,925. That would have been good for fifth on the tour last season, when each of the 21 leading money winners all appeared in at least 20 events.

Kim's realistic hopes of winning ended when she left a 25-foot par putt short on the par-4 15th to fall 4 strokes off Ko's lead. But the player of the year award was still in her control at that point.

Mina Harigae (68) finished at 12 under, the fourth-place finish matching the best of her LPGA career.

Lexi Thompson shot a 2-under 70 on Sunday and finished at 11 under, 7 shots off the pace and tied with Lydia Ko for fifth. Thompson, the leader after Thursday's first round, saw her streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory end at seven.

"Definitely a good ending to the year and to the week," said Thompson, the native South Floridian who had about 15 fans following her Sunday even though the tournament was technically closed to ticketholders.

She said she is looking forward to some normalcy in 2021.

"It was nice to have a few people out there supporting us," Thompson said. "I think the fans make the game, so hopefully we'll get back to that in 2021."

Sunday marked the end to the 18-event LPGA season that was cut almost in half by the pandemic and was shut down for 5½ months from mid-February through the end of July. Next season is scheduled for 34 events, starting with the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, from Jan. 21-24.