Lydia Ko and Leona Maguire could deliver epic duel at CME on Sunday with $2 million on the line

NAPLES, Fla. — Lydia Ko doesn’t want to think about it like a match-play Sunday. After three rounds of the CME Group Tour Championship, Ko sits knotted with Ireland’s Leona Maguire, the hero of last year’s European Solheim Cup team.

Ko could clinch Rolex LPGA Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy, the World No. 1 ranking and money title with a victory and the record $2 million prize. Maguire could further grow her lion-hearted reputation.

“I’m as competitive as they get,” said Maguire, who earlier this year became the first Irish player to win on the LPGA.

Maguire began the day seven shots behind Ko, but a flawless 9-under 63 vaulted her into a tie with Ko at 15 under. Putts swirled around the cup and dropped for Maguire all day, just as her caddie said they would. She needed only 25.

“I think the Solheim Cup was a big part of my journey,” said Maguire, who collected 4.5 points at Inverness. “I have a lot to thank to Beanie (Catriona Matthew) here for picking me, but I think the biggest thing was confidence, feeling like I belonged on that team playing all five matches doing as well as I did.”

Maguire and Ko duel won’t alone, however, as officials have moved to split tees and threesomes for the final round with incoming weather expected in the afternoon. Former U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 will join the pair after a second straight 68.

Ko, who leads the POY race by one point over Minjee Lee, could win the award for the first time since 2015. She could also rise to No. 1 for the first time since the summer of 2017. The Kiwi spent a total of 104 weeks at the top. Ko would have to win and have current No. 1 Nelly Korda finish solo 21st or worse. Korda is currently tied for 12th.

Last month, Ko wrote on Instagram that she and swing coach Sean Foley were no longer working together. Over the summer, she started working with both Foley and Ted Oh, whom she’d worked with previously. Oh is in Naples this week.

“I think both Sean and Ted wanted me to swing naturally to how I should be swinging,” she said, “not to try and make a picture-perfect swing.”

Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays her shot from the 15th tee during the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 19, 2022 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Ko said she won’t think of tomorrow as a match-play scenario given that battling herself is hard enough. She also expects someone to make a charge.

“I just want to play golf that I don’t regret,” she said, “that I feel confident and, and come at the end of tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, you know, I did my best and you know, this is where I finished.’ ”

Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh is among those who could make a charge, sitting five shots back at 10 under with Lee6. Dryburgh won for the first time earlier this month in Japan.

When Dryburgh first arrived on the Ladies European Tour she had one sponsor. After that one fell away, she got some help from the Scottish Golf Union, but that one dried up too. When she had no sponsor, members from her home club, Beaconsfield Golf Club, set up a trust.

Two weeks ago, Dryburgh made more money in one week, $300,000, at the Toto Japan Classic than she had in her previous four years on the LPGA after her breakthrough victory. Now, she trails by five as she chases a second win in three weeks and a $2 million prize.

“Just taking the confidence from Japan into the week,” said Dryburgh. “Been swinging very well and putting well as well, so just kind of riding all of that confidence at the moment. And it’s been fun to get into contention. You never know what can happen tomorrow.”