Lilia Vu heads into the season finale with a fourth LPGA win to her name after claiming victory at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican
After a final-round 66, Lilia Vu was crowned an LPGA Tour champion for the fourth time this season at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. The 2019 LPGA Tour Rookie continued her already impressive year of golf, which included a victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand and two Major championship victories at The Chevron Championship and AIG Women’s Open. She added another victory here in Belleair, Fla., before looking ahead to the season-ending tournament of the year, the CME Group Tour Championship.
Final round from Vu
Vu started the day three shots behind round three leader, Emily Kristine Pedersen, with previous experience climbing the leaderboard in the last round of both her major championship victories this year. The team USA Solheim Cup member started steady on her day, making two pars on the first two holes before beginning the chase. Back-to-back birdies on three and four catapulted Vu to be one shot behind Pedersen.
Vu continued to apply pressure with a birdie on the par-4 sixth hole that would then move her into a share of the lead. After a missed fairway and missed green in regulation, Pedersen made a bogey on the par-4 8th hole to give Vu sole lead for the rest of her round on Sunday.
The UCLA graduate fell by one shot on twelve to 17-under before picking up two more birdies on the scorecard on the par-3 15th and the par-4 16th to move to 19-under par with a three-shot lead headed into the last two holes of her round.
Back-to-back pars sealed the Californian’s fourth win of the year. With a finish of 19-under par, Vu broke the 72-hole scoring record by two shots in her first appearance at The ANNIKA. In addition, she became the second player in the 2023 LPGA Tour season to have at least four wins, joining Frenchwoman Celine Boutier.
“It's mindset,” said the 26-year-old. “I think it's all been mindset for me. I'm not a technical player. I just try and play the course the way it's given to me and then just go from there. Just playing one shot at a time, not getting ahead of yourself. It's not over until the 18th hole, so just play every shot the way you intend it. The next shot could be the best shot you ever hit. And that's a mindset I think about all the time. I think that helps with calming the nerves and doing what's in front of me and being where my feet are.”
Watch Final Round Highlights of 2023 The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican
At the end of the final round, two players found themselves in a tie for second, three shots behind our champion. Fellow UCLA graduate Alison Lee and LPGA Mum Azahara Munoz made their move up the leaderboard from a tie in fourth place.
“It's really cool to see Lilia play some amazing golf this year. You know, I know her first year on tour she struggled a bit, and she struggled to kind of find her way back on tour,” said Lee, who also finished as runner-up at the BMW Ladies Championship after losing in a play-off to Minjee Lee. “But to see her thrive has been really fun to watch and really inspiring.”
After a final-round 67, Spaniard Munoz moved into a tie for second alongside Lee. Entering the week at No. 100 on the Race to the CME Globe points list, the 35-year-old needed a big week to secure her LPGA Tour card for the next year. After four rounds in the 60s, Munoz capped off her season on a high at Pelican Golf Club.
“As I said before, like I was so stressed out I didn't even want to play. It's no fun at all,” said Munoz, who welcomed a son last year. “I'm just really, really proud how I played this week, especially with what was on the line. You know, I managed to play well, and not just play well, but actually be in contention for the tournament, so pretty happy.”
Playing alongside Vu, Saturday’s leader Pedersen finished tied fifth along with Aussie Stephanie Kyriacou. Pedersen failed to record a birdie and had two bogeys and a double bogey on 18. Five players rounded out the top-10 at -13 including Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, Ruoning Yin, Megan Khang and Minami Katsu.
CME Group Tour Championship
Kyriacou played herself into the field of the CME Group Tour Championship. Along with her, the top-60 players will now head to Naples, Florida, for the season-ending event of the 2023 LPGA Tour season.
Narrowly missing out were American Sarah Schmelzel (61), Norwegian Celine Borge (62) and Switzerland's Albane Valenzuela (63).
There will also be some big names missing from the field, including last year's CME Group Tour Champion Lydia Ko (100). The New Zealander may have won one of the biggest prizes outside of the Majors at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International on the LET in February but her LPGA season has only seen her finish in the top 10 twice in 20 starts.
Lexi Thompson (79) will also not be playing in Florida. The American has finished the season strong with a fantastic performance at the Solheim Cup and three further top 10 finishes. Form and injury were a feature of her season and only teeing it up 14 times on the LPGA this season, has raised a lot of questions about her long term future on the tour.
The 2022 KPMG Women's PGA Champion In Gee Chun (75) is also absent this week. The 29-year-old hasn't been able to create some of the magic that she found last season, with only one top 10 finish in 19 starts.
Find out more about the CME Group Tour Championship here.