Amy Yang claims her fifth LPGA victory and first on US soil at the CME Group Tour Championship, whilst Lilia Vu is crowned Rolex Player of the Year
After 16 seasons on the LPGA Tour Amy Yang has claimed her biggest victory to date. A name that may not be that well known across the UK but a player that has remained within the top echelons of the women's game throughout her time on tour.
With $2 million on the line for the winner of the CME Group Tour Championship, Amy Yang finally rose to the occasion, shooting a final round six-under-par 66 to earn her fifth LPGA Tour victory, and her first in four years.
The Tour veteran, who became a rookie in 2008, not only won her first LPGA Tour event in the United States but she also broke the tournament’s 72-hole scoring record by four shots. The 34-year-old marks the oldest winner on the LPGA Tour in the 2023 season, just two months older than Ashleigh Buhai when she won the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer earlier this year.
Final Round Highlights of the 2023 CME Group Tour Championship
Entering the final round in a share of the lead alongside Nasa Hataoka, Yang had a slow start to the day making two pars on her first two holes before bogeying the par-4 3rd hole. She would go on to make a string of pars before she made two birdies on seven and eight to make the turn at -1 on the day and -22 par for the tournament.
It was Yang’s back nine that moved her into a solo spot in first place, with three birdies and an eagle across 10 to 18. The now five-time winner made a birdie on the 10th hole, and two pars on the next two holes before a small jump up the leaderboard happened on 13. From just 80 yards out, Yang holed her second shot from the fairway to move to -25. It was the first hole Yang had sole ownership of the lead. She made two more birdies on her last two holes to seal the deal, but it was her birdie on the par-5 17th where she felt a win at the CME Group Tour Championship was possible.
“Not until I made the birdie putt on the 17th. You know, she (Nasa Hataoka) is such a great player and showed a lot of like good performance out there and I was feeling really nervous. You know, really like I had no idea where this was going. All I could do was just stick to my game and trust it,” said Yang, who was joined by several fellow LPGA Tour players on the green as she sunk her final birdie putt on 18.
“I'm just so grateful. You know, they mean a lot to me. They're like family out on tour and, you know, I do my best. They're just all sweet friends. I'm so grateful to see them on the 18th, and I'm sure down the road I'll do the same for them, too.”
Alison Lee and Nasa Hataoka share second place
Alison Lee and Nasa Hataoka finished in a tie for second at -24. Holding a share of the lead through the first three rounds, Hataoka carded a final-round 69 that included four birdies and one bogey on the par-3 16th hole that ultimately took her out of a share of the lead. She now records her second consecutive finish in the top-10 for the 2023 season, and her 42nd top-10 finish across her Tour career.
Lee had a bogey-free round of 66 on her final day to wrap up another solid week. Her runner-up finish in Naples, Florida, is her third runner-up finish in a row, and fifth top-10 finish of the year. A 2015 rookie, Lee made six birdies on the last day.
“To play the last three weeks just continuously putting the pressure on everyone on the leaderboard and putting myself in contention has just been really cool for me and been a really awesome experience,” said Lee who is now in her ninth year on the LPGA Tour.
“If my game is in form right now, of course I'm going to keep trying to do the best I can to accomplish those goals no matter how old I am.”
View the full CME Group Tour Championship leaderboard here.
Lilia Vu wins 2023 Player of the Year Award
There were two more trophies up for grabs at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Lilia Vu earned the 2023 Rolex Player of the Year award and Atthaya Thitikul the Vare Trophy following their fourth- and fifth-place finishes.
Vu is the first American to be the Rolex Player of the Year since Stacy Lewis in 2014, and is the 26th different player to earn the award since its inception in 1966. Thitikul is the 34th different winner of the Vare Trophy and the second player from Thailand to earn the honour, joining Ariya Jutanugarn (2018).
Entering the Tour’s season finale, the race for POTY honours came down to Vu and Celine Boutier. Vu had the most chances of winning following her victory at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. Boutier had to win the CME Group Tour Championship and have Vu finish eighth or worse to win outright. If Boutier won and Vu finished eighth, both players would have tied with 199 points, and each would have received the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Boutier ultimately finished tied 16, making Vu the newest POTY.
A remarkable season for Vu
Along with her win at The ANNIKA at the start of November, Vu’s remarkable 2023 Tour season included three additional victories and three additional top-10 results. The 26-year-old became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Honda LPGA Thailand, and won her maiden Major title two months later at The Chevron Championship. In August, Vu won her second Major championship at the AIG Women’s Open, where she became the first American to win two Majors in a single season since Juli Inkster in 1999 and ascended to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time in her career. The victory also secured Vu the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award, which she accepted this past week at the Rolex LPGA Awards.
Vu also made her debut for the U.S. Team at the 2023 Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown in May and the U.S. Solheim Cup Team at Finca Cortesin this past September.
"I think it's been unreal for that to happen,” said Vu of winning the award. “I think last year I was telling Cole [my caddie] on the last hole, I remember after the last round, last hole, I just broke down in tears. I was just really hard on myself. I was definitely hard on myself this year, too, but much nicer. Came in with no expectations and tried to win every tournament that I played in. Just kept my goals really small, and I think that really helped me achieve Player of the Year.”
Atthaya Thitikul earns Vare Trophy honour
Thitikul won the 2023 Vare Trophy for recording the season’s lowest scoring average of 69.533. It is the 13th-lowest Vare Trophy-winning scoring average in the award’s history, tying Stacy Lewis’ 69.53 from 2014. She is the first player in the award’s history to win the Vare Trophy without earning a victory in the same year.
Following The ANNIKA, four players recorded scoring averages below 70, with Thitikul leading Hyo Joo Kim by only 0.013 strokes. Kim needed to average 69.432 strokes per round at the CME Group Tour Championship to pass Thitikul. Jin Young Ko ranked third at the start of the week and needed an average score of 65.080, but withdrew prior to the third round at Tiburon Golf Club, therefore eliminating her from the Vare Trophy race, as she needed to complete all four rounds to get to the threshold of 70 rounds needed to qualify for the award. Xiyu Lin ranked fourth, and needed to record an average score of 64.594 to pass Thitikul this week.
Heading into the final day of the 2023 LPGA Tour season, Kim could have potentially passed Thitikul with a 64 or better, but ended Sunday with a final-round 68, leaving her with a season-long scoring average of 69.628.
Thitikul earned a Tour-leading 13 top-10 finishes this season, including two runner-up performances at The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America and the Maybank Championship. She also was a member of the winning Thailand Team at the 2023 Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown in her first appearance.
In 2022, Thitikul became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol and added a second Tour victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. She also was the second-consecutive player from Thailand to earn the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award last season, clinching the honour with two events left in the year.
“You know what? I had no idea I was going to win the Vare Trophy, to be honest. Like I mention, in the middle of the season I played really bad. I mean, missed two cuts in the major events and then also not playing quite good in the middle of the year,” said Thitikul. “I think what it really mean for me when I just bounce back from [being] really uncomfortable and I don't have any confidence there during that time. It's just like really happy that I go over it, go past it, overcome it.”
View the full LPGA Tour season standings here.