Sei Young Kim entered the CME Group Tour Championship coming off a low. She’d just shot her worst LPGA Tour round of the year: a five-over 76 during the Monday final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing T-20. But after she arrived in Naples, Fla., it was like it never happened. After rounds of 67-69-67, she leads the CME Group Tour Championship by one over Jin Young Ko.
Whatever felt off in Houston is gone from her game now. On Saturday, Kim shot 5-under-par 67 in Naples, Fla., to take a one-shot lead at 13 under over Jin Young Ko (69) heading into the final round of the LPGA’s season finale.
“I[‘ve] got [a] good feeling, because I wasn’t good shot striking [the] ball the last week, but I try to figure [it] out,” Kim said. “I got something in there, I was able to play very solid this week.”
If Kim were to win, she’d take home more than the $1.1 million winner’s check—the biggest on the LPGA. She’s also playing for the Rolex player of the year honors. Kim entered the tournament six points behind Inbee Park. A victory and the 30 points that come with it would make her the player of the year. Before the tournament began, the 12-time LPGA winner said it’d be the marque accomplishment of her career thus far.
“It’s a big motivator to me because I never had the player of the year in my life. So that’s biggest in my career if I did that,” Kim said.
Kim is comfortable on Tiburon Golf Club. She drained a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win the event in 2019. Ko doesn’t have the same history, never having finished in the top 10 at Tiburon.
Ko didn’t play much on the LPGA in 2020. Due to the spreading of COVID-19, she spent the majority of the season at home in South Korea, playing on the LPGA Tour of Korea. By the time she returned, she’d been away from the LPGA for almost a year. But she’s playing like she never left.
She finished fifth in her second event, the Volunteers of America Classic, and then T-2 in her third event, the U.S. Women’s Open. The field at the CME is decided by a season-long points list. To get into the field off of just three events was a feat. To be entering the final round a shot off the lead is another level of impressive. Further proof for why she’s the No. 1 player in the world.
Ko and Kim will play in the same group again on Sunday, something they’re comfortable with. They competed on the KLPGA at the same time, and Ko says they were paired together a lot. They know each other well and their families got to know each other, too.
But even though Kim was playing with a friend on Saturday, her seriousness didn’t waver. Ko joked that any attempt to chat didn’t go very far with Kim while they were playing.
“I think she was like too focused on the course,” Ko said, laughing.
With player of the year honors and another huge paycheck on the line, it’s safe to bet Kim won’t be overly chatty on Sunday, either.