NAPLES, Fla. — With the richest prize in women’s golf history riding on the outcome, Sei Young Kim delivered the ultimate money putt.
Even if she didn’t even know the score.
Kim was tied for the lead going to the final hole Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship. The nerves were obvious as she missed each of four straight putts from 12 feet or closer.
Moments later, the 26-year-old South Korean took her place in LPGA Tour history.
Kim made the putt of her life, a 25-footer for birdie that broke sharply to the right and into the cup for a 2-under 70, a one-shot victory over hard-charging Charley Hull and a $1.5 million payoff.
“It means a lot to me just knowing that I won the biggest purse in women’s golf history,” said Kim, whose wire-to-wire win was her third of the year. “That itself is an incredible honour.”
Hull made her earn it.
Six shots behind going to the back nine at Tiburon Golf Club, Hull birdied five of her last seven holes, including the last three. Her 12-foot birdie on the 18th gave her a 66 and a share of the lead.
This was right after Danielle Kang made a 30-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th and came inches short of a closing birdie to tie.
Kim was fully aware of the pressure she felt.
“I was really nervous while walking through hole 18,” she said. “I was like: ‘OK, not a big deal. Try to play like a practice round,’ thinking that would make me comfortable. Even then, I was really nervous.”
She just was oblivious to her competition.
All day, Kim thought it was Nelly Korda, who started one shot behind and fell back with a pair of costly drives to the left. From the top of a crown at the back of the green, Kim figured a two-putt would be enough.
The crowd cheered. She pumped her fist and fought back tears.
Only later, she said, did she realize what it meant.
“After I made it, I saw the leaderboard,” she said. “I didn’t know that Charley finished at 17 (under). What if I didn’t make it? We would have gone to a playoff and that wouldn’t have been good for me. So, wow!”
Kim won for the 10th time in her LPGA career, joining Se Ri Pak (25), Inbee Park (19) and Jiyai Shin (11) as South Korean players with at least 10 victories.
This was memorable for the finish — and the prize.
Instead of a $500,000 first-place check and a $1 million bonus to a season points race, CME Globe wanted to award $1.5 million in official money to any of the 60 players who qualified for the season finale. That's $500,000 more than the previous record prize, $1 million at the U.S. Women's Open.
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., shot 67 and finished alone in fifth at 15 under. Hamilton's Alena Sharp shot a 72 to tie for 29th at 5 under.
Kim finished at 18-under 270 and was No. 2 on the LPGA money list behind Jin Young Ko, who tied for 11th and still had no complaints about her season. Besides the money title, Ko won LPGA player of the year and the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. She won four times this year, including two majors.
Hull was an example of how the format change turned the Tour Championship into a free-for-all. She had only one top-10 finish this year and was No. 51 in the Race to CME Globe. A year ago, she wouldn’t have been eligible for the $1 million bonus.
“I gave it my best shot,” said Hull, who won $480,000 for being runner-up. She made $405,961 in her previous 21 events this year.
Korda, the highest-ranked American who had a chance to get to No. 2 in the world with a victory, tied for the lead with a birdie on the fourth hole. But she began to fall back by failing to birdie the par-5 sixth, scrambling for bogey on No. 9 and making a careless bogey on the 11th that put her three shots behind. On both par 5s on the back nine, she hit tee shots well left, leading to bogey at No. 14.
She birdied the last hole for a 71 to tie for third with Kang.
Korda also had a great view of a putt that was worth $1.5 million — a difference of $1.02 million between winning and second.
“To win $1.5 million by making that putt is quite amazing,” Korda said. “She had to make that birdie to win. It was an amazing cap off to the season.”