NAPLES, Fla. — With the largest prize in the history of women’s golf on the line, the leaderboard at the CME Group Tour Championship is stacked. During the third round at Tiburon Golf Club, players like England’s Charley Hull climbed up the board while American Nelly Korda chased South Korean Sei Young Kim all day for the top spot. Sunday, the LPGA season will come to a finish.
But for now, there are still 18 holes that stand between one player and the $1.5 million winner’s check. For the final pairing of the final round, the race to $1.5 million will be close.
Here’s what to look out for in the final pairing of Sei Young Kim, Nelly Korda and Caroline Masson at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida:
Confidence is key for leader Sei Young Kim
Since day one of the CME Group Tour Championship, South Korean player Sei Young Kim found herself at the top of the leaderboard. Every day since, she’s remained there.
“I’ve got the confidence from the start of the Asian Swing, and then I played quite consistently,” Kim said after her third round. “This week I played quite consistently. Got a lot confident.”
Headed into the third round, Kim held a two-shot lead over Germany’s Caroline Masson. And it didn’t take long before the 26-year-old made strides, carding three one-putt birdies in her first seven holes. But despite finding all 18 greens in regulation, Kim’s putter momentum stalled on the back nine.
With only one birdie on the back, at No. 15, Kim finished with a 4-under 68 and a 16-under 200 for 54 holes (tying the tournament’s 54-hole scoring record).
“I had a pretty solid round front nine. I didn’t think about future. Just stay focused on what I have to do. That thinking make me good result,” Kim said. “But back nine was little tough to focus. I kept thinking about like future, so I was like, ‘Nope, Sei Young. Stop thinking. Focus on it.’ “
With a potential 10th LPGA Tour victory looming, Kim will be in the final group with the top American in the field, Korda. Luckily for Kim, it’s the best pairing she could ask for in a final round — especially as she chases a monumental victory that would make her the fourth Korean with at least 10 LPGA Tour victories, joining Se Ri Pak (25), Inbee Park (19) and Jiyai Shin (11).
“She’s (Nelly Korda) my favorite player. We going to play tomorrow and hopefully with a good, strong finish,” Kim said Saturday. “Just relax and enjoying tomorrow. Tomorrow whatever happens, and then I know that if I win that’s my career ten times win, but I don’t want to think about it. Just want to play well. That’s my biggest target.”
Nelly Korda’s chasing the bass drop and the $1.5 million
Before the CME Group Tour Championship started, all eyes were on Korda, the 21-year-old top-ranked American. Ranked No. 3 in the Rolex World Rankings, the youngest Korda sister knew there was pressure on her.
Heading into the third round, Korda was three shots behind Kim. And after a double bogey on No. 3, Korda knew that she had to step it up. It didn’t take long before Korda found her beat again, carding eight birdies and signing a 66 for the day.
In finishing her third round at 15-under, just one shot behind Kim, Korda credits a musical beat for helping her get back on beat on the course.
“All I was thinking was there is this line in a rap song, ‘Last night I took an L, but tonight I bounced back’ and that’s what I was thinking on the next hole,” Korda said about shifting her mindset after her double bogey. “I have so many songs stuck in my head.”
So, what songs are stuck in Korda’s head this week?
“Right now, I really like the song ‘Hold On Tight,’ the Midnight Kids remix. It’s really cool and has a cool beat. I’m all about the beats. I like when the bass drops. It just keeps me in the rhythm,” Korda said. “I just downloaded ‘Beggin’ ‘ by Mad Con. Then, ‘Hate Me’ by Ellie Goulding and Juice WRLD. ‘Baby Sitter’ by DaBaby. I honestly have so much on my playlist. But, right now, ‘Hold On Tight’ is the song that I listen to from the putting green to the first tee.”
And one song that Korda always blasts to get her pumped up when she needs it most? ‘A Milli,’ by Lil’ Wayne.
“I just love it,” Korda said.
Sounds fitting for this week, as the three-time LPGA winner battles it out for her fourth victory and the $1.5 million winner’s prize.
Caroline Masson finds familiarity in the final round
Masson will face off in the final group against Kim, Korda and her fiancé — Jason McDede, Korda’s caddie. Currently sitting solo at third on the leaderboard at 12-under after a 2-under 70 on Saturday, Masson will get to see a familiar face all round long as she attempts to claim her second win in seven seasons on the LPGA Tour.
Luckily for Masson, this isn’t new territory. Just three weeks ago in the final round of the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA presented by CTBC, Masson faced Korda in a nail-biting playoff and ended up tying for second, behind Korda. Shortly before that, they were paired together at the first round of the Solheim Cup — with Korda/McDede claiming a victory.
“It was cool and special to play with them before. And now, we’re making it a habit,” Masson said. “It’s fun to play together in the final round.”
But don’t confuse this familiarity with a lack of competitive spirit. Masson will treat this final round like any other round and try to go out and win. But it’s not lost on her that playing 18 holes in the presence of her fiancé provides a sense of comfort in the high-stress environment that is a final round.
“The win is the goal, but play solid golf and see where it gets me in the end,” Masson added. “It’s nice to have him there and nice to play with Nelly. We get along well and keep it pretty light out there. You want to be comfortable, but at the same time, it’s still the final group, final day.”