NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Ariya Jutanugarn is occasionally fearful on the golf course, which might seem peculiar given her resume.
She's already clinched the LPGA's player of the year award, her second in the last three seasons. She's already clinched the money title, also for the second time in three years. She's back to No. 1 in the world rankings, will almost certainly have the lowest scoring average on tour this year and finished in the top 10 more regularly than any of her fellow competitors.
If all that wasn't enough, she has the best chance this week at the season-ending tour championship that starts Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club of capturing the Race to the CME Globe — which comes with a $1 million bonus.
So still playing scared at times, that's a puzzler.
"I just want to improve myself every day," Jutanugarn said. "I know I have so much room (to) improve. ... Every time when I go out and play I always have some different situation. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes I'm scared. Sometimes I feel so confident to play golf."
The confident moments seem like they override the worrisome and fearful ones.
She got hot at the right time in 2018 — winning twice in May, the second of those being the U.S. Women's Open, then grabbing the Scottish Open victory in July. She's been tied for third or better in three of her last four starts, and went 67-67 on the weekend to prevail at the tour championship on this southwest Florida track last year.
Jutanugarn won't carry a driver this week — she's 122nd this season in driving accuracy — but she seems to rarely have trouble scoring. She leads the LPGA in birdies, is third in putting average and is even 13th in driving distance despite her disdain for using what ordinarily is the biggest club in the bag.
"I want to play well, I want to hit this shot good because I care about other people, what they're going to be thinking about me," Jutanugarn said. "But then I have to come back to myself and know that other people's expectation is not my expectation. I have to know what is my expectation, because I expect to have a good commitment with every shot. I expect myself to have fun, enjoy, and feel free on the course."
She's one of five women in the field who have the simplest path to winning the CME Globe: Win the tournament, and the trophy and bonus are theirs. Minjee Lee, Brooke Henderson, Nasa Hataoka and Sung Hyun Park are the others; five who are assured of winning the Globe if they win the tournament. There are seven other women with a mathematical chance,
"One of my main goals this year was to be in the top five coming into this event so that I could have this opportunity," Henderson said. "I've been really fortunate that for the past three years I've been in position if I play well this week that I could walk away with that $1 million, which is pretty special. I think it all comes down to you need to have a really great week."
It's the third consecutive year where Henderson has come to Naples — she's Canadian, but now has a home about 30 minutes away from Tiburon — with a chance to win the Globe and the bonus money.
She still doesn't know what she'd do if she won the extra $1 million.
"I've been asked that the last three years, and I'm still not really sure," Henderson said. "But just the opportunity to be here, I'm really grateful. Hopefully I can do something special this week."
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