NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Ariya Jutanugarn had a relaxing walk up the last fairway of the season, knowing that the LPGA’s biggest year-end prizes were finally hers. The drama was left for everyone else.
Jutanugarn wrapped up her season by finishing tied for fourth Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship, clinching the season-long Race to CME Globe points competition and its $1 million bonus. She also won player of the year for the first time, meaning she supplanted Lydia Ko as both the Globe winner and the year’s top player.
Ko would have been player of the year with a win Sunday. But she finished eight shots back of Charley Hull, who shot a final-round 66 and finished at 19 under for her first LPGA victory.
“I tried to fight it out until the end,” said Ko, the world’s No. 1 player, who wrapped Jutanugarn in a big hug when their rounds were complete before heading off to sign dozens of autographs.
To her credit, Ko was all smiles after a tough day.
She was also denied the Vare Trophy, after In Gee Chun rolled in a 10-footer on the final hole for a birdie that served as the final margin in the yearlong scoring standings. Combined, Ko and Chun took more than 11,500 swings over 166 rounds – and the scoring title came down to one putt.
“I didn’t know,” said Chun, who needed to end her year with three consecutive birdies to pass Ko in the scoring race.
As the LPGA has wanted, there were tournaments within the tournament, with so many things decided in the season’s final minutes. Player of the year was settled first, when it became evident that Ko – who needed a win and nothing less to take that title – was not going to catch Hull. The Race to CME Globe came next, with this being the first time in that award’s three-year history that it wouldn’t go to Ko.
The scoring title then came down to Ko’s and Chun’s final putts, and about a half-hour later, Hull finished off the week and the season by making her first win the tour championship. Hull finished two shots ahead of So Yeon Ryu, that margin coming after they had a two-shot swing at the 17th. Ryu’s approach came to rest along a 3-foot face of a bunker, forcing her to play off to the side and wind up settling for bogey.
Hull made birdie there, then coolly two-putted on the 18th to prevail. She played a bogey-free weekend, with 12 birdies and 24 pars in her final 36 holes of the season.
Jutanugarn’s only real blip was on the par-5 opening hole, when she made a bogey and fell behind Ko in the points projection.
The slippage was temporary.
Jutanugarn jumped over Ko in the points standings with a bounceback birdie on the par-4 second. She stayed in control throughout the remainder of the day, eliminating any doubt when she got a 30-foot birdie putt to fall on the par-4 15th.