NAPLES, FL – Cristie Kerr was the player of the week. Lydia Ko was the player of the year and pocketed another $1 million bonus. Inbee Park will be among the players of all-time.
One tournament, three women celebrating.
And just as the LPGA Tour intended, the season finale was dramatic until the end.
Kerr won the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship on Sunday, taking the lead for good with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th and soon wrapping up her 18th career victory. Her $500,000 first prize, which pushed her career earnings past $17 million, almost seemed ancillary given the stakes that Ko and Park were playing for this week.
“Good golf is just good golf,” Kerr said. “It doesn’t really matter what age it is. I think I proved that.”
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., was 13th at 9-under par, while Hamilton’s Alena Sharp tied for 46th at even par.
Kerr is 38, and says she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Ko is still just 18, and became the fourth player to go from rookie of the year one year to player of the year the next. The others on that list: Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel and Annika Sorenstam.
Greats all, and Ko is well on her way to that same status.
“I said if I could choose one of the awards, I would choose player of the year,” Ko said. “To know that I am the player of the year, it’s an awesome feeling.”
Ko won the $1 million bonus for winning the Race to the CME Globe, just as she did last year. And Park wrapped up a trip to the LPGA Hall of Fame by winning the scoring title, meaning the only step that now remains between her and induction is completing her 10th season on tour next year, a prerequisite for eligibility.
“It’s been a long season,” Ko said. “Up and down. Mostly ups.”
Kerr shot a 4-under 68 and finished at 17-under 271, one shot better than Gerina Piller and Ha Na Jang. Lexi Thompson was fourth at 14 under. She and Paula Creamer were among a group of U.S. Solheim Cup teammates who doused Kerr with champagne on the 18th green moments after she tapped home a 2-footer to end the season.
France’s Karine Icher was fifth at 13 under. Park was alone in sixth, good enough to beat Ko by three shots over the course of the entire season for the Vare Trophy and the 27th point she needed for her trip to the LPGA Hall.
“I said the Hall of Fame will be my last goal, but it really came early and I achieved pretty much everything I set so far in my career,” Park said. “There is plenty other goals to set.”
The pressure was obvious, all over the final back nine of the year.
Thompson had an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th, and never got it near the hole. Park missed a 2-footer for par on the 12th, then rallied with consecutive birdies. Stacy Lewis, one of three women who entered the week controlling their destiny in the $1 million race, gave her wedge a smack after needing two shots to escape a bunker at the 16th. Ko had a birdie try at 16 not long afterward, leaving it uncharacteristically short.
But in the end, Kerr, Park and Ko did enough to all come away with big prizes.
“Pretty cool,” Kerr said. “A lot of different honours.”
Kerr shot four rounds in the 60s, made a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 15 to tie for the lead, then the eagle at the 17th put her on top for good.
Park was second in the Globe chase, pocketing a $150,000 bonus. Thompson was third, taking home $100,000 in bonus money _ though she spent much of the afternoon in position to sweep both the $500,000 first prize and the $1 million bonus.
“It’s been a special year for the tour,” Ko said.