NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson won $1 million for the CME Race to the Globe and left so much more behind Sunday in the LPGA Tour’s final event.
Thompson was poised to win the CME Group Tour Championship and LPGA player of the year until she jabbed at a 2-foot par putt and missed it on the 18th hole at Tiburon Golf Club. That paved the way for Ariya Jutanugarn, who birdied her last two holes for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot victory.
It was a wild ending to the LPGA Tour season and sent four players home with a trophy of some variety.
Although she lost the tournament, Thompson still won the CME Race to the Globe and the $1 million bonus. She also won the Vare Trophy for having the lowest adjusted scoring average.
Thompson had to win the tournament to be player of the year. Instead, the points-based LPGA player of the year was a tie between a pair of major champions from South Korea, So Yeon Ryu and LPGA rookie Sung Hyun Park. It was the first time the award was shared since it began in 1966.
Park, the U.S. Women’s Open champion, was trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to sweep the major awards. She already had won rookie of the year. She had to settle for a tie for player of the year, and her 75 in the third round damaged her chances of winning the Vare Trophy.
Brooke Henderson (72) of Smiths Falls, Ont., tied for 25th at 6 under and Hamilton’s Alena Sharp (69) tied for 46th at 1 under.
What stood out on another sunny afternoon was the sterling performance of Jutanugarn, who won for the second time this year.
She was three shots behind Thompson with six holes to play when her putter saved the day.
Jutanugarn was at 13 under on the par-5 17th when she hit a hybrid for her second shot into the bunker and blasted out to about 18 feet. Ahead of her on the 18th green, Thompson was at 15 under and lagged a 50-foot birdie attempt beautifully down the slope on the 18th to 2 feet left of the cup.
Jutanugarn made birdie. Thompson missed her par putt, and there was a three-way tie for the lead at 14 under that included Jessica Korda, who was playing with Thompson and had left her 25-foot birdie attempt well short.
Thompson and Korda each closed with a 67.
Jutanugarn hit her approach about 18 feet above the hole and made it for winning birdie. She finished at 15-under 273 and earned $500,000.
“I had no expectation at all,” Jutanugarn said. “I really did not think about the outcome.”
Jutanugarn was part of a four-way tie for the lead going into the final round, and the CME Group Tour Championship was up for grabs most of the day until Thompson seemingly seized control with 32 on the front nine, a 10-foot birdie on the 13th and then a superb pitch from left of the 17th green that set up a 3-foot birdie.
Pernilla Lindberg had reason to believe she needed birdie from long range on the 18th to have a chance. She ran that 7 feet by the hole and three-putted for a bogey and a 68. She wound up finishing two shots behind, along with Eun-Hee Ji (67).
Michelle Wie, trying to win for the first time since the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014, had a share of the lead until she hit near the edge of a bunker and made double bogey on No. 9, and then dropped two more shots on the back nine. Even with seven birdies, Wie still only managed a 70. She tied for sixth with Park, who closed with a 69. Park was at 13 under through 35 holes and played 1 over the final 37 holes.
Ryu was coping with a shoulder injury and was happy to squeeze in 72 holes. She wound up a part-winner of LPGA player of the year.
Thompson was on the putting green when she heard the cheer for Jutanugarn’s final birdie.
It was the second time this year that Thompson appeared to be in control and was stunned to not win. She had a four-shot lead in the final round of the ANA Inspiration when she was penalized four shots – two for incorrectly marking her golf ball on the green in the third round, and two more shots because the infraction wasn’t discovered by a viewer until the next day, and so she signed an incorrect scorecard in the third round.
She wound up losing to Ryu in a playoff, though Thompson said this week it made her a stronger person.
This will be another wound from which to recover, though she at least takes $1 million home with her as a consolation.