NAPLES, Florida: Lydia Ko is one round away from clinching LPGA player of the year and taking home the largest prize in the history of women’s golf.
Leona Maguire showed Saturday that it won’t be easy.
Maguire had four straight birdies around the turn, added a pair of birdies late and had a 9-under 63, allowing her to make up a seven-shot deficit and tie Ko going into the final day of the CME Group Tour Championship.
“The hole was looking big, and I was trying to hit it as close as I could,” Maguire said.
Ko had a five-shot lead to start the third round — seven shots ahead of Maguire — and made a mixture of birdies and bogeys that stalled her round. She fell one shot behind Maguire until chipping to tap-in range on the par-5 17th. She finished with a 70.
Maguire is too far back to win player of the year. There’s a lot more at stake than that.
“Obviously, the $2 million, it’s a lot of money,” said Maguire, who has made $1,262,831 in 23 tournaments this year on the LPGA. “We’re very lucky to be playing for that kind of money. So, yeah, try to make the most of the opportunity tomorrow.”
They were at 15-under 201 in what shaped up as a two-player race. No one else was closer than five shots to them. Former US Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 had a 68 and Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland had a 69. They were at 206.
“It’s never over until that last putt drops for every single player, and I don’t think you can count anybody out,” Ko said. “Clearly the last three days have shown that somebody has shot a really low score. So who knows how far back you are for still be in contention.
“I just want to play golf that I don’t regret, golf that I feel confident and come at the end of tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, you know, I did my best.’ And this is where I finish.”
Adding to the pressure is the Sunday forecast for rain and 20 mph (32 kph) gusts.
“Nothing I’m not used to from Ireland,” Maguire said when she finished her round. “We’ll see where Lydia gets at the end of the day, but ultimately just go out and play as well as I possibly can, and especially if there’s bad weather, that’s all you can control. Looking forward to one last walk of the season tomorrow.”
Brooke Henderson kept her slim hopes alive for player of the year. The Canadian, who had to withdraw last week with a back injury, had two eagles in her round of 65 and was at 9-under 207.
Henderson will have to win the CME Group Tour Championship and have Ko finish third or worse to win player of the year.
“If I could have another day like this tomorrow, that would be really nice,” she said.
Ko came into the week with a one-point advantage over Minjee Lee for player of the year. Lee, the Australian who won the US Women’s Open and leads the LPGA money list, has fallen nine shots behind and is all but certain to be eliminated.
Ko is a lock to win the Vare Trophy for having the lowest scoring average. A victory would send her season earnings to over $4.3 million.
Nelly Korda, who won last week at Pelican Golf Club, had to birdie her last three holes for a 73 that left her nine shots out of the lead.