(Reuters) – Kim Sei-young sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the final hole to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the biggest prize in women’s golf, $1.5 million, in Florida on Sunday.
After leading almost the entire tournament, Kim nearly blew it before coming through in unlikely circumstances at the par-four 18th, where her downhill putt broke deliciously to the right and trickled in.
The South Korean carded two-under-par 70 to win by one stroke from England’s Charley Hull, who almost stole the tournament with five birdies in the final seven holes for a 66 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples.
Kim admitted that nerves had affected her putting down the home stretch as she made several poor strokes while trying to avoid thinking about the record first prize.
She did not look at any leaderboards and said she was unaware the birdie putt at the last was for the win and the Race to the CME Globe title.
“I was thinking, try to make two-putt, that’s my mindset,” an emotional Kim said after finishing at 18-under 270 for her 10th LPGA Tour victory at the age of 26.
“I wanted to focus on my game. I don’t want to think about other players. If I see the leaderboard, sometimes it helps but sometimes it doesn’t help my emotions.
“I didn’t know that I was tied for the lead with Charley. After I made the putt and saw the leaderboard I was so surprised that Charley was 17 under.”
Kim is the fourth Korean player to reach double-digit LPGA victories, joining Pak Se-ri (25), Park In-bee (19) and Shin Ji-yai (11).
All of her 10 victories have come since 2015, and nobody on tour has won more often during this period.
But though she is no stranger to success, it still was not easy playing with the lead all four days in the final LPGA event of the year.
“I tried to make myself relax but going to the final round still got nervous,” Kim said.
“I tried to calm myself but it didn’t work. It was really nervous the whole 18.”
Hull, barely an afterthought until her late charge, nearly gatecrashed the party with birdies at the final three holes, including a 10-footer at the last after a superb eight-iron approach shot.
The 2016 winner barely qualified to play this year and was 51st in the standings at the start of the week. Her play down the stretch belied her low ranking.
Americans Danielle Kang (65) and Nelly Korda (71) were also in contention, eventually finishing two shots behind Kim.
Kim’s win capped off another dominant year for South Korean players, who have ruled women’s golf for the best part of two decades.
They combined to win 15 of 32 LPGA tournaments in 2019, with Ko Jin-young leading the way with four victories.
Ko won the money list and also collected the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average of 69.06. Only Annika Sorenstam has ever scored better.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Clare Fallon and Richard Pullin)