NAPLES, Fla. – Scores at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship continue to plummet at Tiburon Golf Club as Alison Lee and Nasa Hataoka set a new 36-hole scoring record of 14-under 130.
With a $2 million winner’s check on the line to close out the year, expect plenty of fireworks as many of the hottest players in the game continue to show strong form down the stretch.
As Lee looks to win for the first time in 179 starts on the LPGA, veteran Amy Yang looks to win for the first time on American soil while Nasa Hataoka looks to close out a big title after several close calls at the majors in 2023.
Here are five things to know heading into the weekend in Naples:
What is it that finally turned things around for Alison Lee?
Turns out it was a round of golf with Fred Couples in September at the Berenberg Invitational. Couples reached out to someone after the round to get Lee’s number and then sent her a note saying: “Hey, I didn’t get to tell you during the round, but you are fricking good.”
That opened the door to an ongoing text exchange that has continued for several months. Lee gets emotional talking about it, calling Couples her No. 1 fan the last several months. He calls her “Mrs. Monster.”
“Like he just was hammering into me like, you need to believe. You’re a good player. You need to go out there and believe,” she said.
In South Korea at the BMW Ladies Championship, Lee felt a shift. She lost in a playoff to Minjee Lee and then won the next week on the LET in Saudi Arabia. Last week at The Annika, she finished runner-up again.
Lee’s scoring average in her last four starts, including CME, is 65.62.
“I feel so in tune with myself and my game,” said Lee. “I haven’t felt like this in a really long time.”
Lilia Vu had a lot on her mind in the opening round of the CME. Specifically, she had a 5 p.m. hair appointment for the Rolex LPGA Awards dinner that she was worrying about missing.
Sure enough, the world No. 1 finished at 5:04 p.m. and was forced to do her own hair. She opened with a 2-under 70, and then headed to dinner to accept her Rolex Annika Major Award and be honored as a first-time winner. Vu actually won four times this season, including two major championships, and has the chance to wrap up Rolex Player of the Year honors this week, too.
She vaulted up the board on Friday after a 6-under 66 with no post-round appointments on her plate.
“I think when I have nothing else to worry about, I’m very clear and I know what shot I want to do or hit, where to be and where to place myself,” she said. “I just feel very free.”
Vu, who won last week at The Annika, had only seen the back nine at Tiburon before Thursday’s opening round. While she played the event last year, Vu still felt like she was trying to find her way around the front nine on Thursday. She felt more comfortable during the second round.
Amy Yang, fresh off a third-round 9-under 61 at The Annika, fired the low round of the day, a 9-under 63, at the CME on Friday to trail by one. Yang, who is no stranger to going low, rattled off six birdies in seven holes in a back-nine 30.
Three years ago, Yang began working on her mental game with Paul Dewland, who has helped her learn how to keep calm during the round or even during practice.
Yang suffered from tennis elbow on her left side that took just over a year to heal. Now pain-free, she opted not to have a hat sponsor this year so that she could just focus on golf and not deal with additional obligations.
But she didn’t want to wear blank hats, so she had a smiley face stitched on her bucket hats and visors.
Thursday’s scoring average of 69.333 was lower than any of the four rounds last year at Tiburon Golf Club. After more than four inches of rain fell on Wednesday that canceled the pro-am, the field played preferred lies in the first round.
Friday’s scoring average was even lower: 68.89.
Gemma Dryburgh, going out in the first group, set the tone on Day 2 with a 65.
With only two rounds left in the 2023 season, the Vare Trophy is still up for grabs. The award, given to the player with the season’s lowest scoring average, is also worth one LPGA Hall of Fame point.
Coming into the CME, Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul led the way in scoring. She maintains the lead after rounds of 67-66, putting her at 69.645 for the season.
South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim checks in at 69.645, while Xiyu Lin (69.865) and Jin Young Ko (69.985) round out the top four.