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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the CME

It's finally here. The LPGA tees it up at the CME Group Tour Championship, the final event of the season and the one with the biggest payoff. The winner of this event wins half a million dollars, and the winner of the Race to the CME Globe picks up a cool million, so it's possible to walk away this week with $1.5million.

That's not bad work if you can get it.

Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and In Gee Chun

Unlike the PGA and Champions Tours, the LPGA's playoff system only gives the Top3 in the points race control of their destiny. This week, those three are Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson. And where the other tours give everybody in the event a numerical chance at the big prize, only NINE players in the Race have that chance. If you're #10 or worse in points, you're just trying to win the tournament.

Not that half a million bucks is such a bad consolation prize.

As usual, Tony Jesselli has a preview post for the event at his website. Cristie Kerr is the defending champion for the event itself and Lydia Ko is the two-time defending Race winner. The Rolex Player of the Year trophy is also up for grabs, but unless Lydia wins the tournament it's going to Ariya.

My "5 to Watch" focuses on who I think has the best chance to win the tournament, not the Race. If Lydia, Ariya or Brooke wins the tournament, they take it all. But Lydia's game has been off lately -- there's talk that the Leadbetter "A Swing" experiment has caused problems and she's trying to get back to her old swing -- the Tiburon course hasn't been that kind to Ariya -- she was 30th last year -- and it's been a long season for Brooke.
  • I think In Gee Chun has a really good chance to win the tournament. Tiburon is a tight layout, and In Gee does have a US Open under her belt.
  • You can't ignore Shanshan Feng anytime the spotlight gets bright, and this is probably the brightest it's been since the Olympics. I seem to remember her doing pretty well there. She's got six Top4s in her last six events, winning her last two starts. She didn't do so well at Tiburon last year, but this isn't the same Shanshan. I expect "Jenny Money" to show up this week.
  • HaNa Jang finished second last year. She's already got three wins this year; why not a fourth? And if she does win -- well, she's #4 in the Race. If the Top3 stumble, she could easily take it all.
  • It's really hard to bet against Carlota Ciganda, given the run of good play she's had in the last month. That run includes two wins, including Lorena's event last week. I'm sure she'd love to finish the year off right.
  • And for my flier: Gerina Pillar was second here last year, making five birdies in her last six holes as she sprinted after Kerr. She has been so close so often this year, that I can't help but think she's got a great chance this time around.
And my pick to win? I got to go with Jenny Money! Shanshan Feng is clearly in the best form coming in -- even better than Ciganda -- and I think she'll be fresh after taking last week off.

The tape-delayed GC broadcast starts at 4:30pm ET on Thursday afternoon. But at least Sunday's final round will be live on ABC at 1pm ET.

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