Call it a birdie-barrage, a scoring binge, a sub-par-fest but what transpired on day one at the LPGA Tour’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship was an all-out assault on par at the scoring-friendly Tiburon Golf Club.
There was good reason for the volume of low scores. First, Tour officials, fearing a lot of rain, moved all the tees forward. Second, the field played lift-clean-and-place and third — soft conditions and no wind whatsoever made it a birdie paradise. The setup was easy to insure the field would finish the first round.
Jeongeun Lee6 (yes there are five others) was the best of the best in Naples. Her eight-under par 64 gave her the solo lead but there are huge names stacked up behind her. “I had a good time today,” said Lee, the 2019 Rookie Of The Year who hit all 18 greens. “My goal was free (of) bogeys, so, yeah, I achieved it,” said Lee6, who finished T11 in her only previous CME appearance in 2019. “My feel is getting better, so my goal is to win once this year, but unfortunately just one tournament left. I’m going to try my best.”
World No. 1 Nelly Korda’s 66 left her just two off Lee6’s pace and Nelly’s right where she needs to be. One of her directives is to outplay world no. 2 Jin Young Ko for 72 holes and she clipped Ko by three on Thursday. “I think I just struck it really well. I gave myself some good looks inside 10 feet,” Korda said after her round. She’s looking to become the first American to claim Player of the Year honors since Stacy Lewis in 2014. “Two oopsies with two three-putts, but I think I hit a majority of the greens and gave myself some really good looks,” Korda added.
Sei Young Kim lost to Nelly in the four-way playoff last Sunday at the Pelican Championship and she’s going to be a factor again this week after shooting 65. She was one of four players at seven-under. Celine Boutier, Mina Harigae and Jennifer Kupcho joined her. Kupcho was in the battle for the Pelican title last week until she faded on Sunday.
Lexi Thompson — one of the playoff losers at the Pelican thanks to a bogey-bogey finish — bounced right back with a 67 and was one of five at five-under.
The low scoring reached a ridiculous level. Thirty-six players in the 60-woman field broke 70 and 50 of the 60 players were under par.
Only five players were over par and poor Angel Yin was dead-last with 79.
There’s a lot at stake over the next three days. First place money is a whopping $1.5 million and the winner of the championship also takes the overall Race To The CME Globe title.
Player Of The Year is on the line and that’s basically a battle between Korda and Jin Young Ko.
The field got out early and finished early to beat the predicted heavy rains that were moving toward southwest Florida in the late afternoon. As it was, it was only a light drizzle in the early afternoon as the field made it in before the predicted deluge.
Scoring on Friday may be a bit more difficult with a longer setup and more difficult pin placements.
CME Group Up The 2022 Prize Money:
In a huge move for women’s golf, the CME Group has announced that next year, the season-ending event will pay a mind-boggling $2 million to the tournament winner and that every player making the final 60 will earn at least $40,000.