South Korea's Kim Sei-young has captured the final tournament of the 2019 LPGA season, for her third title of the year and 10th of her career, hitting the jackpot with the largest purse in women's golf history.
With a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole, Kim completed a wire-to-wire victory at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, on Sunday (local time). The finishing birdie gave Kim a final round of two-under 70 for a four-day total of 18-under 280, one better than Charley Hull of England, and she took home a record $1.5 million.
Kim's victory gave the South Korean contingent 15 wins for 2019, tying the record for most wins in a single LPGA season by South Korean players. The mark was first set in 2015 and equaled in 2017.
South Korea's Kim Sei-young (Yonhap)
Ji Eun-hee won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January, and Kim's title provided the bookend for a monumental season.
Kim, 26, is now the fourth South Korean to reach double figures in career LPGA wins, trailing Pak Se-ri (25), Park In-bee (19) and Shin Ji-yai(11). Of the three, Pak is retired and Shin is now playing on the Japanese tour. Park, 31, has drastically cut down on her LPGA schedule and hasn't won since March 2018.
Kim entered the final round at Tiburon Golf Club at 16-under, nursing a one-stroke lead over Nelly Korda of the United States.
Caroline Masson of Germany was four behind Kim at the start of play.
Kim had a two-stroke lead over the field at the turn at 17-under, but then Hull, playing in a group ahead, caught fire on the back nine, while the South Korean's putter deserted her.
Kim birdied the 10th to get to 18-under but then gave a shot back at the 14th. Hull birdied the 12th and 13th, and closed out with three straight birdies, including one at the difficult par-4 18th.
Kim made a nervy par putt at the 17th to stay at 17-under. And then with Hull already in the club house at 17-under, Kim reached the 18th needing a birdie to win it in regulation.
The South Korean slightly pulled her six-iron to the final green, as her second shot rolled to the back of the green. But she drained the long birdie attempt, with the ball taking the side door into the cup at the last second to cap off the dramatic tournament.
Speaking through an interpreter, Kim admitted after the round that she had no idea she had to make that birdie on the 18th to win the tournament.
"To be honest with you, I was only aware of Nelly's position when I was putting," Kim said of Korda, who was playing in the same group with Kim and finished at 16-under with a birdie at the 18th.
"I just thought of two-putting to secure my win. Then I found out about Charley's score when I was submitting my scorecard.
"I knew that a lot of the girls were catching up," Kim continued. "But I knew that if I kept my composure, I could get it done."
Another South Korean star, world No. 1 Ko Jin-young, held off Kim for her first career money title and also finished with the lowest scoring average on the tour. Ko had already clinched the Player of the Year award last month. (Yonhap)