Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov misses out on LPGA Tour finale

The LPGA Tour season reaches its climax this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, although two of this year’s major champions are not eligible to tee it up in Florida.

Only the leading 70 players in the season-long standings automatically qualify for the Race to the CME Globe finale at Tiburón Golf Club, an increase of 10 from previous seasons, with two sponsor’s invitations completing the 72-player field for the no-cut event.

World No 1 Jin Young Ko only secured her spot with a runner-up finish at last week’s US Women’s Open, taking her to 45th in the standings despite playing just three LPGA Tour events in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rest of the world’s top eight are also involved, including defending champion Sei Young Kim and current Race to CME Globe leader Inbee Park, but there’s no place in the field for both AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov or last week’s US Women’s Open winner A Lim Kim.

Kim not featuring is more understandable, given her major breakthrough came as a non-member of the LPGA Tour, but Popov’s omission has once again caused controversy within the women’s game.

Popov only held Symetra Tour membership at the time of her incredible victory at Royal Troon in August, meaning the points she would’ve usually received for that major win were not put in her season-long total on the LPGA Tour.

Although the German took up LPGA Tour membership immediately after that success and didn’t miss a cut in her seven appearances, a tied-40th finish in Houston last week at the final major of the year saw her end the 2020 campaign 82nd in the standings.

Wish I could have played my hometown event this week 😒 https://t.co/nTYC89Q22D

Popov would be 16th on the Race to CME Globe had her points counted from the Women’s Open win, but the 28-year-old will now have to sit out of the final event of 2020 after being overlooked for one of the two sponsor’s invites.

“It’s a fairness thing, as far as playing ability. It’s not like I haven’t earned it. It’s like I have earned it points-wise, technically,” Popov told Golfweek.

World No 252 Sarah Kemp – an ambassador of tournament sponsors CME Group – received one of the exemptions, despite only posting one worldwide top-20 in 15 starts in 2020, with the other going to Natalie Gulbis.

The three-time Solheim Cup player hasn’t made a cut in any LPGA Tour event since April 2018 and has been limited to just six starts this year, although gets her spot based on being a friend of CME Group chief executive Terry Duffy.

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The season-finale doesn’t traditionally have sponsor’s exemptions, with the decision to include two this year a one-off due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the 2020 schedule.

The player who wins the CME Group Tour Championship will be named the Race to the CME Globe Champion, with a $1.1million first prize – the highest purse in women’s golf – up for grabs.

Watch the CME Group Tour Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday from 6pm on Sky Sports Golf and the Sky Sports Golf YouTube channel.

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