This week's Annika driven by Gainbridge serves as the LPGA's last call for players vying to earn their way into the CME Group Tour Championship as well as save their cards for the 2024 season. The 120-player field at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Fla., gets the final chance to gain CME points, the tour's currency for both punching a ticket to the Tour Championship—with a lucrative $7 million purse—as well as determining a player's status for next year. Those who end up in the top 60 and ties of the 2023 season's CME points are eligible to play in the final event of the season, while those in the top 100 have quality status next year. Players earn up to 500 CME points for a tournament win at a regular event, while the tour's five majors are worth 30 percent more.
Bianca Pagdanganan, sitting 60th on the CME points list, highlights how one week can change the tenor of a year. Within the last month, the 26-year-old from the Philippines posted a T-2 and a T-3 finish to go from buried deep on the LPGA's priority list to the final spot at the Tour Championship. Along with Pagdanganan, here are nine notable players to watch at Pelican as they attempt to earn their way into the CME and/or gain better status for 2024.
Yong Teck Lim
Race to the CME points list: 56
Lee produced a torrid stretch of play during the summer that earned her a place on the U.S. Solheim Cup team, stringing together five consecutive top-13 finishes from early August to early September, highlighted by a T-9 at the AIG Women's Open. That also earned her way into a safe position for a spot at the Tour Championship. It was a crucial turnaround after missing seven cuts in her first 14 starts of the season, which included three no-cut events.
Race to the CME points list: 57
Sagstrom's course-record-setting closing 63 at the Buick LPGA Shanghai last month vaulted her from 38th place to T-8, earning the 30-year-old Swede her best finish of the year. The charge up the leaderboard put her into position for the CME, paying off her consistent midseason play with three straight top-20 results from late April to early June, including the first top-10 of the season at the Cognizant Founder's Cup. Long considered a rising talent, if Sagstrom can stay in the top 60, it will be her fourth consecutive appearance at the Tour Championship.
Race to the CME points list: 61
The 2021 ANA Inspiration winner sits on the outside looking in at the Tour Championship. Despite a T-3 at the DIO Implant LA Open in March and a T-6 at the Women's Scottish in August, the 24-year-old Thai native couldn't capitalize on the seven limited-field events she played this year. Tavatanakit only beat one player between her first two starts at the Honda LPGA and the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Her best finish in three events during the fall Asia swing was a T-28 at the BMW Ladies Championship, unable to get into the top 60 on CME despite Pagdanganan not being eligible to play in the Eastern hemisphere.
Race to the CME points list: 83
Lewis is in danger of missing the CME for only the second time since the tournament's creation in 2011, as she could not play in 2018 while on maternity leave. Lewis attempted to balance her role as U.S. Solheim captain while continuing to play this year, but after a season-best T-6 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July, the LPGA's team event, Lewis may have run out of steam as she has not made a cut in her her last five starts. To jump into the top 60, she’ll not only need to play the weekend but finish in a two-way tie for third or better at Pelican.
Race to the CME points list: 86
The two-time winner had a solid start to the 2023 season, playing through to the weekend in her first 10 events. Alex's late-summer cold streak, however, knocked her out of CME contention, missing six straight cuts before righting the ship in late September. The positive for the Florida resident is her second-best finish of the season came in her last tournament, a T-16 at the Ascendant LPGA in early October.
Race to the CME points list: 98
An up-and-down season finds Harigae sweating things out at the end just to maintain quality status for next year. While the 2022 U.S. Women's Open runner-up has four top-30 finishes, she also had a habit of missing consecutive cuts, doing so four times this year. Should Harigae fall outside the top 100, her final-round 76 at Pebble Beach in July, where the Monterrey, Calif., native had more experience than anyone else in the field, looms large, as it pushed her out of the top 20 to a T-33.
Race to the CME points list: 101
Ko is in the awkward position of potentially becoming the first CME Group Tour Championship winner who was unable to qualify to play in the event the next year since the tournament’s inception in 2011. After an amazing comeback season in 2022, Ko has struggled finding any rythem to her game. Ko had just one top-10 finish before the fall Asia swing, a T-6 at the Honda LPGA Thailand in her season debut back in February. Defending her title at the BMW Ladies Championship seemed to rejuvenate the New Zealander, posting her best finish of the season, a solo third place, as well as a T-11 at last month’s Maybank Championship. Unfortunately, since she was a sponsor's invite at both tournaments, Ko earned zero CME points for two of her three best performances of 2023. Outside of those three starts, she has no other finishes inside the top 30 this season. The bright spot for Ko is that she is guaranteed quality status for 2024 even if she remains outside the top 100 on CME points due to her wins last season.
Race to the CME points list: 106
Much was expected from the 21-year-old former amateur phenom as she began her rookie season. In her second start, Li had a T-18 performance at the LA Open … which turned out to be her best result so far in 2023. Li faces losing her status in part due to a challenging stretch of missing five of six cuts from July to September. The LPGA's European swing proved particularly trying for her, as Li missed the weekend in all three events she played in across the Atlantic Ocean. She arrives at the Annika with some momentum, having made the cut in her last two cuts. She’ll have to do that and more this week to avoid needing to go back to LPGA Q Series.
Race to the CME points list: 134
Does Hedwall have another late charge in her? The Swede’s 2023 highlight was her Solheim Cup singles performance, where she won against Ally Ewing after rallying from being 3 down with six holes to play by posting five birdies. Hedwall will need something similar if she is to push herself into the top 100. In 2023, she only made two starts on tour in 2023, both being LET/LPGA co-sanctioned events, the Women's Scottish and the AIG, as Hedwall primarily played in Europe this season. Her T-6 at the Scottish, however, put Hedwall high enough on the CME list to be eligible for the Annika this week, giving her a chance to move back to full-time LPGA status for the first time since 2020.