The final day at the CME Group Tour Championship became a showdown between two of the LPGA’s top players without a major. South Korea’s Amy Yang and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka had posted some dazzlingly low scores all week at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, and continued to do so in the final round of the LPGA’s 2023 season finale. The two combined to make just five bogeys over four rounds. In the end, it was Yang, 34, emerging the champion—and taking home the $US2 million first-place prizemoney—by grabbing her fifth career victory but first since 2019.
Win: Amy Yang -27 (final-round 66)
T-2: Nasa Hataoka -24 (69)
T-2: Alison Lee -24 (66)
4: Lilia Vu -21 (65)
5: Atthaya Thitikul -20 (66)
How it happened
Hataoka and Yang began the day tied at 21-under, with Hataoka separating herself early, taking a three-stroke lead through the first five holes. Yet Yang fought back with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, from the seventh to 10th holes, to knot things up at 23-under.
Yang then took the lead outright with the shot of the day, a hole-out eagle on the par-4 13th from about 70 metres to move to 25-under.
“I saw it landed really close to the pin,” Yang said. “And just like a split second, I thought, Oh, it’s going to go in. That definitely was good momentum.”
While Hataoka tied Yang on 14 with a birdie, the six-time LPGA winner’s putter failed her down the stretch. Hataoka missed a pair of looks inside 10 feet on the 16th and 17th holes, after carding her second bogey of the tournament on the par-3 15th.
Yang, meanwhile, birdied the 17th to take a two-shot lead to the home hole, playing the last as even-keeled as her swing’s tempo. Her closing birdie on the last gave her a 66 and a three-stroke victory, with several tour friends popping open champagne bottles before the ball even found the bottom of the cup, then stormed the green to greet Yang with a meaningful champagne shower.
Amy Yang [left] and Nasa Hataoka [right] turned the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship into a (mostly) two-player affair. [Photo: Michael Reaves]
What it means
It wasn’t until her 16th season on the LPGA Tour that Yang finally won a tournament on American soil, breaking through in her adopted home state of Florida. Yang had been a consistent force on the LPGA since her rookie season in 2008, posting 21 top-10s at LPGA majors, including a pair of T-4s at this year’s Chevron Championship and AIG Women’s Open. But she was never able to claim a breakout win.
While the Tour Championship isn’t a major, it pays like one. The $US2 million prize, the largest pay cheque of Yang’s career, squeaks her just past Australia’s Minjee Lee (who finished T-8 in Florida after a closing 70) to 11th on the career moneylist with $US13,882,919. Yang is now second among all South Korean golfers in LPGA career earnings, behind only LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park ($US18.3 million).
Yang won convincingly, shattering the previous scoring record at the CME by four strokes, besting Jin Young Ko’s 23-under victory in 2021.
Best of the rest
Only the end of the season could stop Alison Lee’s electric run of play. The American finished tied with Hataoka for second with a bogey-free 66, ending her year with only three players beating her in her final three LPGA events along with a record-setting victory at the Ladies European Tour’s Aramco Team Series event in Saudi Arabia. With PGA Tour legend Fred Couples as her new cornerman, Lee unlocked a level of self-belief that has her playing some of the best golf on the planet and putting her on an early track to make the 2024 U.S. Solheim Cup team. It would be the first time Lee has played Solheim since her rookie season in 2015.
Atthaya Thitikul, Amy Yang and Lilia Vu pose with their respective hardware after the end of the CME Group Tour Championship. [Photo: Michael Reaves]
Meanwhile, the Vare Trophy and Player of the Year leaders going into the Tour Championship won their respective season-long awards. Atthaya Thitikul (69.53), with her 13th top-10 of the season after a fifth-place finish this week, won the Vare by a mere 0.13 scoring average over Hyo Joo Kim (69.67), who ended up T-13. Lilia Vu, with a fourth-place finish at the CME, became the first American to win Rolex Player of the Year since Stacy Lewis in 2014, beating Celine Boutier by 34 points.