LPGA 2013: TItleholders Groups to Watch

Inbee Park, Rolex Player of the Year
Inbee Park, Rolex Player of the Year /

Going into the CME Group Titleholders, the final event of the 2013 LPGA season, some awards have been settled but others are still up for grabs.  South Korean Inbee Park finished 1 place ahead of Norwegian Suzann Pettersen at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and stopped Pettersen’s late-season charge to capture the prestigious Rolex Player of the Year.  America’s top golfer, Stacy Lewis, has won the Kia Drive to the Top for the 2nd year in a row, eclipsing both Park and Pettersen by compiling the most top-10 finishes in the 2013 season.  The Rolex Ranked No. 3 Lewis led the category all season!

The Trifecta

Park, Pettersen, and Lewis will have at least one more go at each other.  They’re paired for the Titleholder’s 1st round tomorrow and are the last group to tee off.  With Rolex Player of the Year in Park’s column and Kia Drive to the Top in Lewis’s column, only the Vare Trophy remains in question.  Pettersen, who chased Park for the Rolex award and Lewis for the Kia award, is trailing Lewis for the Vare.

"this week I can really enjoy myself and enjoy the end-of-year scheduleInbee Park"

Stacy Lewis, Kia Drive to the Top Award
Stacy Lewis, Kia Drive to the Top Award /

Park is utterly relaxed for the first time in months.  Stacy Lewis is feeling satisfied and confident in her game.  And Suzann Pettersen wants to be on top.  With this pairing and these circumstances, world-class golf is inevitable.

"it’s been fun this year kind of having the three of us going back and forth. . .  I almost feel like this year’s been better than last yearStacy Lewis"

Hot Off the Tee

The Kia Power Drive Award went to Nicole Smith, whose average driving distance of 274.875 yards kept her just 4 yards ahead of Lexi Thompson, who averaged 270.925.  The other long hitters, Daniela Iacobelli, Yani Tseng, and Alena Sharpe, averaged between 268 and 266 yard drives.  Among the long drivers, only Lexi Thompson qualified for the Titleholders event.

Lexi Thompson, Top Driver at CME Titleholders. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Lexi Thompson, Top Driver at CME Titleholders. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

Thompson is paired for the Titleholders 1st round with Japan’s Ai Mayazato and American Natalie Gulbis.  Rolex Ranked No. 16 Mayazato has a driving average of 242 yards and Gulbis, ranked No. 106, averages 246 yards.    Expect Thompson to be well down the fairway while Miyazato and Gulbis are working out much longer approaches.

Thompson, Rolex Ranked No. 10, is coming into the Titleholders hot off the tee and hot on the putting surface.  She probably won’t meet intense competition within her pairing for the first round.

Compelling Performances

Beatriz Recar, Kia Most Compelling Performance Award. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Beatriz Recar, Kia Most Compelling Performance Award. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

Eight players were nominated for Kia’s Most Compelling Performance award, one for each month of the LPGA Tour season. The annual award is based on fan votes for the monthly nominees.  Spaniard Beatrize Recari won Kia’s 2013 Most Compelling Performance Award.  Recari earned her nomination and her award for her stunning performance at the Marathon LPGA Classic in July, where she out-dueled America’s Paula Creamer for a 1 shot victory.

Recari, Rolex Ranked No. 18, is paired with Solheim teammates and compatriots Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Muñoz.  Both are still looking for their 1st LPGA victory.  But Ciganda, Rolex Ranked No. 40, and Muñoz, ranked No 31 showed the games they’re capable of playing during the 2013 Solheim Cup.  Being paired with Recari could work in their favor.  This trio could easily play off each other’s strengths and give us a fine all-around performance tomorrow.

Ko Has Gone Pro

Kiwi Lydia Ko will make her professional debut tomorrow playing with two Americans, Jessica Korda and Michelle Wie.  Korda and Wie both entered the pro golf world as teenagers and this is either a fortuitous pairing or an exceptionally sensitive one.  In either case, Ko, Korda and Wie will play directly in front of the Trifecta.  Ko, Rolex Ranked No 6, is the likely leader in the group.  Korda, ranked No. 34 and Wie, ranked No 65, are both winless this season and are very likely to be outplayed by the newest member of the LPGA Tour.

The final event of the 2013 LPGA Tour is 12 hours from tee time.  Jennifer Johnson and Hee-Young Park are first off Tee #1 and Pornanong Phatlum and Dewl Claire Schreerel off Tee #10 at 8:40am Thursday at the Tiburón Golf Club.  The Golf Channel will provide daily coverage, Thursday through Sunday, 1:30-4pm ET, and I’ll provide a daily wrap-up of each round.