CME Group Tour Championship 2023 Tips: Jamie’s four for Florida

 | November 15 | 

17 mins read

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The LPGA Season comes to a close with the CME Group Tour Championship. As always, Jamie Worsley is here with his long-read preview and four more tips to win in Florida. 

CME Group Tour Championship Tips

  • 2.5 pts Jin Young Ko each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 16/1 
  • 2 pts Ruoning Yin each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 22/1 
  • 1 pt Ariya Jutanugarn each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 50/1 
  • 1 pt Sei Young Kim each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 60/1

Lilia Vu continued her phenomenal year last week in The ANNIKA at Pelican Golf Club, winning on tour for the fourth time in 2023.

The former #1 amateur has been a recognised talent for several years and there was a sense that her first LPGA win in the Honda LPGA Thailand at the start of the year was coming. Though few could’ve predicted just how impressively she would kick on after that, as she bookended this year’s majors with wins in rather different but equally impressive fashion. First winning the Chevron Championship in a playoff back in April and then sauntering to a six-shot victory in the Women’s Open in August.

She hit the top of the Rolex Rankings for the first time following that major win at Walton Heath and after an effortlessly admirable performance last week saw her pick up title #4, she regained that top spot. Once again replicating the promise she showed during her decorated amateur career.

Vu will be one of the leading contenders for victory this week, with the LPGA concluding its 2023 season in Naples, Florida; as the world’s very best tackle Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course in the thirteenth edition of the CME Group Tour Championship.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The CME Group Tour Championship debuted in 2011, replacing the LPGA Tour Championship. It sees the top 60 players on the Race to CME Globe season-long standings compete for one final, $2million winners’ prize – the joint-largest on tour alongside the US Women’s Open.

In 2019, the Tour Championship and culmination of the Race to CME Globe season essentially became one and the same, with whoever wins the Tour Championship also being crowned “Race to CME Globe Champion”. Whether you qualify for the event as the top-ranked player or just about scrape into it in 60th, all have the same chance of taking home this lucrative prize.

The first two editions of the event took place away from Tiburon Golf Club, with Hee-young Park winning at Grand Cypress GC in 2011 and she was followed by compatriot, Na-yeon Choi in 2012 at TwinEagles Club.

China’s Shanshan Feng won the first edition at Tiburon in 2013, succeeded by Lydia Ko in 2014, in the first and only edition to go to a playoff.

Cristie Kerr was the first winner from the U.S in 2015, with that tally doubled by Lexi Thompson in 2018; sandwiching wins for Charley Hull (2016) and Ariya Jutanugarn (2017).

Sei-Young Kim became the third different Korean winner in 2019, before a record-breaking double for Jin Young Ko in 2020/2021. Not only did she become the first player to successfully defend the trophy and win the event twice, but she also set the tournament record winning margin with a five-stroke success in 2020 and then broke the record for winning score in 2023, firing 23-under-par.

We had our second multiple winner last year, as Lydia Ko won for the second time, eight years after her first success. Unfortunately, after a largely underwhelming year that has her languishing down at 100th in the rankings, and with no exemption awarded to the previous year’s winner, she does not return to defend this week.

THE COURSE

Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course was designed by Greg Norman in 1998 and has hosted every edition of the CME Group Tour Championship since 2013. It was also the host of the QBE Shootout on the PGA Tour from 2001 until last year and will be the setting of the inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational in a few weeks’ time – an innovate new tournament that will see some of the best of the LPGA and PGA Tours come together in a mixed-team format.

With an average winning score of -17 across the ten renewals, the course typically provides a good, solid test, with an even mix of birdie holes and those that are more challenging.

It plays as a par 72, measuring 6556 yards; possessing ten par 4s (320-425 yards), four par 5s (485-544 yards) and four par 3s (140-190 yards).

The Gold Course is relatively flat, with little in the way of elevation changes and features very wide, gently rolling fairways; framed by tall pine and cypress trees on most holes. There is no rough here, with large bunkers and coquina waste areas – which are littered with native foliage – lining the fairways instead.

Water is also a constant threat, in-play on fifteen holes and there are several out-of-bounds areas for those straying too far from the short grass.

The often elevated and angled bermudagrass greens are large and undulating, playing at between 11.5-12 on the stimp this week. Whilst run-off areas offer some protection, it is the substantial and steep-faced sod-wall bunkers that are most intimidating around the greens; proving devilishly difficult to play out of.

There is a lot of risk/reward about the Gold Course, which is evident right at the very start of the course, on the 533-yard par 5 1st. After hitting a drive into an extremely generous fairway, players who then go for the green in two can shorten the hole significantly, but will need to carry water that sits short and left of the putting surface. This is a theme that runs throughout the course, particularly on what would look to be the most scorable holes on paper.

THE STATS

Key Stats:

  • SG: Approach
  • SG: Putting (Bermudagrass)
  • Sand Save %
  • Driving Distance
  • Par 4 Scoring

Some wet weather before the start of the event may well change the dynamic this week and take some fire out of the course. If so, I expect the strongest approach players and putters to thrive.

Quality on the greens was especially prevalent last year – our only edition for which we currently have tournament-specific data – as each of the top 3 ranked inside the top 5 in putting: winner, Lydia Ko ranked 2nd; runner-up, Leona Maguire ranked 3rd and Anna Nordqvist in 3rd was 5th on the greens. Whilst each of them ranked 18th or higher in approach.

Lydia Ko is a player who often excels in approach and on the greens, as does Jin Young Ko, who won the two renewals prior to her. The same can be said about other past winner, such as Sei Young Kim and Lexi Thompson, whilst several high-finishing contenders also tick this box; including Nasa Hataoka and Hannah Green, who have both finished 2nd here and past 3rd-place finishers, Danielle Kang and Celine Boutier.

With the challenges that wait in these greenside bunkers, I’m also keen to get the very best bunker players on side. Lydia Ko and Leona Maguire (1st and 2nd last year) are both strong out of the sand; Jin Young Ko, Mina Harigae, Celine Boutier and Charley Hull are a collection of players to finish top 3 here, who are good in this area.

Though a mix of longer and shorter hitters have contended at Tiburon, I can’t help but think this generous driving course sets up well for those who carry a bit of length off-the-tee, especially with the predicted pre-event rain set to fall this week. Past winners: Lexi Thompson, Sei Young Kim, Ariya Jutanugarn and Charley Hull very much ticked this box when they won this event, ranking top 50 in driving distance in those respective years. Whilst not imperative, I certainly think length is an advantage.

Finally, the par 4s look like the key to unlocking the Gold Course. The evidence for this was strong last year, as the top 3 ranked 2nd, 1st and 3rd in par 4 scoring respectively.

CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)

The ANNIKA (Pelican Golf Club)

The most obvious comp is last week’s host course, Pelican Golf Club. This fellow Floridian course has similarly generous fairways, large bermudagrass greens and a significant amount of water in-play.

Notable Correlating Form:

Sei Young Kim:

Tour Championship (1st, 2nd) / The ANNIKA (1st, 2nd)

Nelly Korda:

Tour Championship (2nd, 3rd) / The ANNIKA (1st, 1st)

Lexi Thompson:

Tour Championship (1st, 2nd) / The ANNIKA (2nd, 2nd)

Lydia Ko:

Tour Championship (1st, 1st) / The ANNIKA (2nd, 4th)

Hannah Green:

Tour Championship (2nd) / The ANNIKA (4th)

Amy Yang:

Tour Championship (7th, 8th) / The ANNIKA (2nd)

Brooke Henderson:

Tour Championship (5th, 7th, 7th) / The ANNIKA (5th, 6th)

 

The Ascendant LPGA (Old American Golf Club)

With generous fairways, bermudagrass greens and penal bunkering, I think The Ascendant LPGA can provide us with another route into this week’s CME Group Tour Championship.

Notable Correlating Form:

Jin Young Ko:

Tour Championship (1st, 1st) / Ascendant (1st)

Charley Hull:

Tour Championship (1st) / Ascendant (1st)

Sei Young Kim:

Tour Championship (1st, 2nd) / Ascendant (4th, 8th)

Ariya Jutanugarn:

Tour Championship (1st) / Ascendant (4th)

So Yeon Ryu:

Tour Championship (2nd, 2nd) / Ascendant (2nd)

Celine Boutier:

Tour Championship (3rd) / Ascendant (8th, 9th)

Georgia Hall:

Tour Championship (4th, 7th) / Ascendant (4th)

 

2023 Chevron Championship (The Club at Carlton Woods – Nicklaus Course)

Onto two courses used for the first time in 2023, therefore won’t be littered with form-ties. However they have many similarities with the Gold Course.

The first of these is The Club at Carlton Woods. This tree-lined course is generous off-the-tee, with big bermudagrass greens, water a regular feature and a similar level of bunkering to this week’s venue.

Notable Correlating Form:

Jin Young Ko:

Tour Championship (1st, 1st) / Chevron (9th)

Nelly Korda:

Tour Championship (2nd 3rd) / Chevron (3rd)

Atthaya Thitikul:

Tour Championship (10th) / Chevron (4th)

Amy Yang:

Tour Championship (7th, 8th) / Chevron (4th)

Megan Khang:

Tour Championship (5th) / Chevron (9th)

 

2023 LPGA Drive on Championship (Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club – Prospector Course)

The Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain is more exposed but with generous fairways and large, angled bermudagrass-base greens, it can point us in the right direction this week.

Notable Correlating Form:

Jin Young Ko:

Tour Championship (1st, 1st) / Drive On (5th)

Charley Hull:

Tour Championship (1st) / Drive On (7th)

Celine Boutier:

Tour Championship (3rd) / Drive On (1st)

Georgia Hall:

Tour Championship (4th, 7th) / Drive on (2nd)

THE WEATHER

There are/have been significant thunderstorms in the area in the days leading up to the event and it is expected to continue into Thursday’s opening round.

Conditions are set to be warm, clear and pleasant from Friday onwards and with nothing more than a moderate breeze predicted, a potentially receptive course could see some good scoring.

THE FIELD

There is an obviously strong field in attendance in Florida this week, though there are two notable absentees in the shape of former winners, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson, who failed to make it inside that top 60 that was required to get into this final event of the year.

The world’s top 9 are all in attendance, led by last week’s winner, Lilia Vu, who returned to the top of the Rolex Rankings after her victory in The ANNIKA. She is joined by the top-ranked player on the Race to CME Globe and current world #3, Celine Boutier.

There is also a high-class group of debutants heading to Tiburon, including world #2 and this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA champion, Ruoning Yin. Rose Zhang caps off a whirlwind first year as a professional by playing in her first CME Group Tour Championship and Linn Grant’s seamless transition to LPGA golf this year has rewarded her with a spot in this field and a chance at taking home the $2million first prize.

Madelene Sagstrom is the last player in the field at #60 in the season-long rankings, whilst after strong top 15 finishes last week, Stephanie Kyriacou and Patty Tavatankit moved inside the top 60; with the European duo of Celine Borge and Albane Valenzuela the unfortunate duo to lose their spots at the final stage.

SELECTIONS

Atthaya Thitkul is the 11/1 favourite this week, with world #1, Lilia Vu next at 12s. As you’d expect, the top of the market for the LPGA’s season-ending showpiece is very strong and I’m keen to have a couple from the top end of the market on board.

There’s nobody up there that appealed to me at the prices as much as former two-time winner, Jin Young Ko and she goes in as this week’s headline selection.

2.5 pts Jin Young Ko each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 16/1 

It feels like Jin Young Ko has hovered just under the radar for much of this year, potentially due to her generally lacklustre performances in the majors, where she’s recorded just one top 10 when 9th in the Chevron Championship. Though with two wins earlier in the year and a couple more close calls of late, it has been another strong year for the Korean.

She picked up the first of those wins on just her second start of the year, in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. As the tour moved over to the US, she doubled her tally for 2023 five starts later, getting the better of Minjee Lee in a playoff in the Founders Cup.

Ko’s form was solid if unspectacular over her next seven starts, where as stated, she struggled to really get anything going in the final four majors. However, she almost claimed LPGA title #3 of the year five starts ago, when finishing 2nd in the CPKC Women’s Open to Megan Khang, losing in a playoff.

Playoff defeat then awaited her in the Aramco Series - Hong Kong on the LET four starts ago, as she lost out to Xiyu Lin in an event that had to be shortened to 36 holes due to incoming weather.

Ko’s approach play has been the key to her success this year, ranking 3rd and she is also the leading player in par 4 scoring. Her short game has been solid too, ranking top 25 out of the bunkers and two starts ago in Malaysia, she produced her second-best putting performance of the season.

This set of stats makes her a serious player here, as she showed with her back-to-back wins in 2020/2021. If we needed any added encouragement, she’s also a past winner of The Ascendant LPGA and has recorded top 10s at each of the other three correlating courses mentioned.

Ko simply ticks every box and anything less than a serious push at claiming this final prize of the year will be a surprising outcome this week.

2 pts Ruoning Yin each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 22/1 

Ruoning Yin just missed out on a place for us last week, finishing 7th in The ANNIKA. However, that should act as a good pointer as to her ability to perform at Tiburon on debut and I’m taking one of the breakout stars of 2023 to sign off the year in style this week.

After a promising finish to her rookie season in 2022, Yin flew out of the blocks this year, recording her first LPGA victory in the LA Open at Palos Verdes, on just her second start of 2023.

She continued to perform after that, with another top 5 back in LA in the LA Championship, though hit new heights in June, at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

In a little under three months, Yin had gone from being winless on the LPGA to now being a two-time winner and more importantly, a major champion, lasting out Yuka Saso by a shot at a challenging Baltusrol.

Whilst that was her last victory, she has continued to perform well and after three consecutive 3rd-place finishes at the end of August/beginning of September, she reached another milestone, becoming the world #1 for the first time, following the conclusion of the Kroger Queen City Championship.

After a five-week break, Yin was a little slow to get going in the tour of East Asia, finishing 41st in the first two events in China and Korea. She moved in the right direction two starts ago, finishing 17th in the Maybank Championship in Malaysia and on her return to the US last week, she finished 7th in The ANNIKA, recording four rounds in the 60s and firing an excellent 7-under 63 in the third round.

It was good to see her putt those bermudagrass greens well there, as the putter has been the only cause for concern this year. Her biggest strength lies within the quality of her ball-striking, ranking 2nd in approach and 11th off-the-tee this season; she’s also a lengthy 26th in driving distance.

As a top 50 bunker player and ranking 15th in par 4 scoring, she should suit this test and would be one of few whose season-long exploits warrant taking home this accolade.

1 pt Ariya Jutanugarn each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 50/1 

Two experienced, former winners of this event to finish, starting with Ariya Jutanugarn, who won the title back in 2017. She’s been playing her best golf of the year over recent months and as a player currently excelling in approach and on the greens, her game looks in a good enough place to record a first win in over two years.

Ariya showed some positive signs earlier in the year but her form was largely inconsistent, where five top 20s, including a runner-up finish in the Meijer LPGA Classic, where generally followed by missed cuts and more underwhelming finishes. However, over her last six starts, she has found a really eye-catching run of form.

She has recorded four top 10s over this period, starting with a 7th in the Portland Classic six starts ago and another 7th in The ANNIKA last week on her latest start; with a 3rd-place finish in the Buick LPGA Shanghai slotted in between.

Jutanugarn’s approach play has largely inspired this run, with three of her four best performances in this area coming over those last six starts, including leading the field when finishing 5th in the Kroger Queen City Championship. In addition to this, she’s been strong on the greens all year, ranking 14th and has scored the par 4s well, ranking 26th.

Aside from winning this event in 2017, the Thai two-time major winner has recorded two further top 5s. With a 4th in The Ascendant LPGA and that 7th last week further franking her suitability to this test, I’m taking this class act to finish the season in style at Tiburon.

1 pt Sei Young Kim each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 60/1

Sei Young Kim struggled to make much impression earlier in the season. Though with her two best performances of the year coming over her last six starts, the 2019 Tour Championship winner might have just found form in time to add a second Race to CME Globe trophy this week.

Kim has been consistent for much of the year, with only four missed cuts in twenty-two starts and eight top 25 finishes, but failed to record a single top 10 until six starts ago in the CPKC Women’s Open, where she finished 4th.

She found things difficult on her next two starts following that, missing the cut in Portland and finishing 60th in the Kroger Queen City Championship, though attained her best finish of the year in Arkansas three starts ago, finishing 3rd and producing her best putting performance of the year.

Kim arrives here after a three-weak break, following a 20th-place finish in the Maybank Championship on her latest start, where she ranked 5th in the field tee-to-green.

This is indicative of her golf for much of the year, where she has consistently looked solid, ranking 30th tee-to-green, but has been unable to lift certain areas of her game to achieve more lofty finishes, such as those two recent top 5s.

We have plenty of reasons to be positive that Kim can spike her performance again this week though. She is not just a past winner of this event but she returned to finish 2nd the following year in 2020 and has never finished outside the top 25 in eight visits. With some strong correlating form on offer, such as 1st and 2nd-place finishes at Pelican Golf Club and two top 10s in The Ascendant, there is more than enough encouragement that Kim can perform well at a nice price this week.

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