NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko was an instant millionaire even before she went into a three-way playoff Sunday in the CME Group Tour Championship.
She finished off her rookie season in style.
Another victory. Another record. And the richest single-day payoff in the history of women’s golf.
Ko was flawless with a 4-under 68 that allowed her to capture the inaugural “Race to CME Globe” and its $1 million bonus. Then, the 17-year-old added an extra $500,000 to her big day when she won the Tour Championship with a par on the fourth playoff hole.
And to think just one year ago she made $16,063 in her pro debut at Tiburon Golf Club.
Her clothes drenched with champagne, she sat next to a pair of crystal trophies, with a glass case at her feet stuffed with cash to symbolize the $1 million bonus. Ko had posed with the cash case at the start of the week. She never thought about the money until it was hers.
“When I saw that $1 million in the box I was like, “Wow, I wonder who the winner of that will be?’” she said. “I’ve never see that much cash in one place before.”
The LPGA Tour has never seen a rookie like this.
Ko now has five wins before she can legally drink that champagne that was sprayed on her at the 18th green after she defeated Carlota Ciganda of Spain and Julieta Granada of Paraguay. She won three times this year, and her earnings from the Tour Championship made her the first player to go over $2 million as a rookie.
“This year has been awesome,” she said.
She needed some help from Ciganda and Granada in the playoff, which was held on the 425-yard 18th hole, which yielded only four birdies in the final round.
Granada, who closed with a 1-under 71, was the first to be eliminated on the second playoff hole when she three-putted from just off the 18th green. Her 5-foot par putt spun in and out of the cup.
Ciganda, who closed with a 70, had two good chances to win.
The longest hitter of the three women in the playoff, Ciganda reached the par-5 17th in two shots and three-putted for par, missing a 3-foot birdie putt that would have given her the lead with one hole to play in regulation. On the third playoff hole, she missed a 5-foot birdie putt for the win.
Playing the 18th for the fourth time in a playoff, Ciganda pulled her approach and watched it bounce down the slope and into the hazard.
“What the ...” Ciganda said, without finishing the sentence as her shot sailed toward trouble.
She took a penalty drop and chipped to 3 feet. Ko needed only two putts for the win, and her first putt stopped an inch from going in. No matter. The kid was a winner again, her fifth LPGA Tour title before her 18th birthday. She was an amateur when she won her first two LPGA titles.
Ko wasn’t the only big winner in the LPGA Tour finale.
Stacy Lewis never had a chance to win the tournament or the $1 million bonus, though she walked away with her own slice of history. Lewis became the first American in 21 years to sweep the three most significant awards on the LPGA Tour — player of the year, the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average and the money title.
“The $1 million would have been nice,” Lewis said after a 71 to tie for ninth place. “But those three, that’s what I came here for.”
Ko had a 68-68 weekend, and she established herself quickly on another blustery day with three birdies in eight holes to take the lead. She hit her approach to 3 feet on the 13th and looked as though she might pull away.
Ciganda made back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes to join Ko at 10-under par, and Granada chipped in on the 15th for birdie to make it a threesome. They finished at 10-under 278 to force the third straight playoff on the LPGA Tour.
Going into the LPGA Tour finale, the top three in the Race to CME Globe only had to win the tournament to capture the $1 million bonus. Lewis wound up six shots out of the playoff. Inbee Park, who was at No. 2 in the standings, never got on track and tied for 24th at even-par 288.
Ko only needed to finish fourth to win the Race to CME Globe, so she learned she had the $1 million before the playoff started.
“She’s a great player,” Lewis said. “She got that innocence about her that she doesn’t even realize what’s going on. She probably has no idea how the scenarios and points work out. Maybe it’s to her advantage.”
Ko made a great day even better with the playoff win.