CME Group Titleholders Third Round Notes and Interviews

Natalie Gulbis

Natalie Gulbis plays a shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the CME Group Titleholders at Tiburon Golf Club on November 23, 2013 in Naples, Florida.

CME Group Titleholders
Tiburón Golf Club
Naples, Florida
Third-Round Notes and Interviews
November 23, 2013

Natalie Gulbis -11, Rolex Rankings No. 106
Gerina Piller -11, Rolex Rankings No. 53
Pornanong Phatlum -11, Rolex Rankings No. 56
Stacy Lewis -9, Rolex Rankings No. 3
Lexi Thompson -9, Rolex Rankings No. 10
Michelle Wie -8, Rolex Rankings No. 65
Inbee Park -7, Rolex Rankings No. 1

Americans Natalie Gulbis and Gerina Piller and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum are in a tie atop the leaderboard after three rounds of play at the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. The trio of players share the lead at 11-under par and are trailed a group of four players by two shots. Rolex Rankings No. 3 and Vare Trophy finalist Stacy Lewis, No. 7  Shanshan Feng, No. 10 Lexi Thompson and second-round leader Sandra Gal are in a tie for fourth at 9-under par.

Two-time LPGA Tour winner Michelle Wie shot a 6-under 66 on Friday to move into solo eighth and sits three shots off the lead. Fresh off receiving her Rolex Player of the Year award on Friday night, No. 1 Inbee Park kept herself in contention after a 3-under 69. The 25-year old, who became the first South Korean to win Player of the Year, is in a tie for ninth at 7-under par.

Gulbis carded eight birdies and one bogey on Friday en route to a 7-under 65, her best round since the final round of the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship. The 12-year LPGA Tour veteran said she has been reworking her swing with Coach Butch Harmon in her off weeks and made a transition to a new set of TaylorMade irons.

“I've been off for three weeks and I've been home in Las Vegas working with my coach, Butch Harmon,” said Gulbis. “I didn't play that well in Asia and there was a lot to do on my golf game.  I changed irons, which as any player knows it's quite a process to change irons and switch to the new TaylorMade irons and just spent a lot of time with Butch redoing every aspect of my game and just working on fundamentals.”

Gulbis is playing for her first win since she earned her lone victory at the 2007 Evian Masters. Piller and Phatlum are both fighting for their first career wins. Phatlum won the unofficial HSBC Brasil Cup last season.

Piller, who was a one of Meg Mallon’s captain’s picks for this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup team, said the experience in Parker, Colo. this summer has helped prepare her for high pressure situations. In her debut at the team competition, she said she learned how to play with nerves and make big shots down the stretch.

“Tomorrow I think I'm just going to keep telling myself what I've been telling myself, when you stand on that first tee, just because you're nervous doesn't mean you're going to hit a bad shot,” said Piller. “I feel like I'm striking it well and this win would be ‑‑ I mean, just winning has always been a goal of mine and I've never won as a professional.  So, for one, I'm excited that I put myself in this position to begin with and just have fun with it.  It's the last round of the year.

Fellow U.S Solheim Cup team member Stacy Lewis shot the round of the day and set a new tournament record with a 9-under 63. The 28-year old tied her career low, which she shot previously on three separate occasions. She carded eight birdies, an eagle and one bogey to jump from T23 to a tie for fourth.

The Woodlands, Texas native had some extra motivation for moving day and is trying to clinch the Vare Trophy for the LPGA’s low scoring average. She said her round on Friday was one of the best she’s had all year.

“It's up there pretty high more just because of the Vare Trophy,” said Lewis. “We kind of ‑‑ we became ‑‑ I think average‑wise we became closer after the last two rounds so that was more my motivation than anything.  Once I got ‑‑ once I was like 5‑under on the day, I kind of started looking at the leaderboard saying if I can make a few more, I can give myself a chance going into tomorrow.  Definitely one of the best rounds of the year.

Eyeing the Vare Trophy… This season’s 28 tournament schedule has all come down to the final-round in determining who will take home this year’s much sought after Vare Trophy. Stacy Lewis entered the season’s final event this week with a .011 lead over Suzann Pettersen in the tight-knit race.

In order for Pettersen to derail Lewis from becoming the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the Vare Trophy, she needs to better the former University of Arkansas Razorback by nine strokes at the finish of the event. That looks to be a pretty tall task. Heading into tomorrow’s final-round of the CME Group Titleholders, Lewis seems to be cruising to the Vare Trophy title as she sits at 9-under-par while Pettersen currently sits at 1-under.

Lewis has her eye set on making history. A victory and the first-place prize check of $700,000 would guarantee her that top spot in the LPGA’s Official Money List.  If she is able to capture both the Vare Trophy and LPGA Tour Official Money List title, she will become the first American since Betsy King to accomplish that feat in 20 years.

“I mean, they mean a lot, just to be included on the list,” said Lewis. “When you see the list of past winners more than anything, I mean, Annika, Lorena, Karrie, to be included on the list with those people, I mean, that's just a dream come true.  And to think ‑‑ I mean, coming out on Tour did I ever think I could ever win any of these awards?  Absolutely not.  Just to be in the running for it is a huge honor. Today definitely made ‑‑ is going to make tomorrow a lot easier. I think Beth and hopefully Betsy will be pretty happy, too, that they get to stop hearing their name being talked about.”

With only one round remaining of the year, Lewis is in command to claim her first Vare Trophy of her career and can begin to breathe a sigh of relief. While Lewis claimed three victories this season, she admitted to always having a close, watchful eye on the numbers and statistics.

“I would say over these last few weeks I've definitely been watching the Vare Trophy,” said Lewis. “The weeks I didn't play I was definitely watching what Suzann did.  I tried to not look at scores, but I couldn't help myself.  I'm a numbers person.  I mean, I can do the numbers in my head and I try to not think about it too much but it's been there.”
  
Anybody’s ballgame… It could be quite the race to the finish line on Sunday. While a trio that includes Natalie Gulbis, Pornanong Phatlam and Gerina Piller, are tied for first at 11-under, sharing only one victory between the three, a logjam of LPGA’s biggest stars are within striking distance with only four shots separating those in the top-10.

Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 3 Stacy Lewis, teenage sensation Lexi Thompson, China’s Shanshan Feng and 16-time LPGA winner Cristie Kerr are contribute a combined 37 victories to 45 wins within the group of 12 who sit at the top of the leaderboard.

While it may make for an eye-catching leaderboard and a dramatic finish to the season-ending event for the fans, Inbee Park believes it makes for a tough win on Sunday.

“You just look at the leaderboard a couple times when you play and you saw it and there's so many good players up there,” said Park. “That just makes your win tougher.  I wouldn't say it's the best things for players because if you're trying to win you actually would not like that kind of leaderboard.  I mean, I think it gives you more of an accomplishment feeling when you achieve from that kind of situation.”

Happy Anniversary!  Saturday’s third-round of the season-ending CME Group Titleholders was a day of celebration for Michelle Wie as it was exactly one year ago at this event that she debuted her infamous “tabletop” putting style.

“Me, proud creator of the tabletop,” joked Wie. “Trademark, patent pending.”

“But it feels good,” added Wie, “It feels good that I found something that, like you said, I created myself, I kind of did it myself and it feels good.”

The putting style, which places Wie in what she refers to as an “80 degree angle,” has paid off for the two-time LPGA Tour winner as she has improved 93 places in putts per GIR and 65 positions in putting average within the past year. Not only has Wie climbed her way up the LPGA Tour’s statistics, she also inched her way up the leaderboard on moving day of the CME Group Titleholders after an impressive 6-under 66 second round that included only 23 putts.

“Yeah, it is the one‑year anniversary,” said Wie, “I was just thinking that today.  It's just ‑‑ I just feel more comfortable over it.  I can't really explain the physics of it or like the reason why it works, but it works for me.  You know, I see the line a lot more.  I feel lower ‑‑ obviously I feel lower to the ground, but I think I'm like at 80 degrees now, not like 90, which is a slight improvement. 

“I feel like it's good because I didn't change one thing to my putting all year, I just worked at the same exact thing, just worked on my speed and actually just worked on making putts rather than working on my technique,” said Wie. “So that's what I'm really proud of this year is just that I haven't really tweaked around, messed around with my technique like I always used to, I just go out there on the putting green and I actually practice making putts, so I feel a lot more confident now.”

Quote of the Day: “We would definitely pay that sucker off” -Gerina Piller on having the $700,000 winner’s check this week go towards her newly purchased home in Fort Worth, Texas

Tweet of the Day: “Lewis, Gal, Gulbis, Kerr, Wie, I.Park, Thompson, Webb all in contention at Titleholders. State of LPGA = Very Healthy” -@KellyTilghmanGC

 

INBEE PARK, Rolex Rankings No. 1

INBEE PARK:  I don't need to (indiscernible) this anymore, just concentrate on golf and nothing else to worry about.  But it was fun to actually prepare that kind of a speech, especially being the Player of the Year and preparing for something like that, I can do it every week.

Q.  How about, I mean, going into tomorrow's round, you're in striking distance in this tournament and it's a really packed leaderboard.  Tell me about your thoughts going into Sunday.

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I think it's a great leaderboard and I think tomorrow, you know, whoever's going to win is going to be shooting a low score.  Yeah, I made a lot of bogeys yesterday and today, just trying to sharpen up my game a little bit more and learn from my mistakes today and yesterday will probably get me into the striking zone.

Q.  Do you feel like you're rolling the ball a little bit better?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I'm definitely putting better than last week, that's for sure, and I think this green is a little bit tougher for me to putt because it's so grainy and I'm sure it is for everybody else, too.  I feel like everything's going the right direction and yeah, I see the progress.

Q.  Was it helpful to play with Natalie today because she was also on a roll, you could almost feed off her?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, it's always good to have somebody that's playing so well with you and making a lot of birdies, a birdie group, so really good group.

Q.  That leaderboard, there's so many big names, stars on it, it's fun for the fans.  Do the players notice that?  Does it make a difference?

INBEE PARK:  You just look at the leaderboard a couple times when you play and you saw it and there's so many good players up there.  That just makes your win tougher.  I wouldn't say it's the best things for players because if you're trying to win you actually would not like that kind of leaderboard.  I mean, I think it gives you more of an accomplishment feeling when you achieve from that kind of situation.

Q.  I had a feeling you were going to play good once that speech was over.

Q.  Do you feel like you have some, if not intimidation, people, when they see your name coming up because you have come from behind, do you kind of like that, that maybe you're kind of lurking there, and when people see your name on a leaderboard, that does kind of maybe work in your favor?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I think, you know, if I can maybe give other players a little bit of pressure seeing my name, I think that's really great thing as coming from behind player.  Yeah, I feel the same when I see Stacy or Suzann up on the board.

 

STACY LEWIS, Rolex Rankings No. 3

Q.  Good day on the greens, huh?
STACY LEWIS:  I hit the ball a lot better.  Kind of just all week just been working on my swing, working on my putting and just I found a couple things that clicked yesterday afternoon and then this morning.  I mean, the hole‑out was definitely a nice way to get started and then from there it was actually pretty easy.

Q.  What did you have?
STACY LEWIS:  The hole‑out?  177 to the hole and I hit 5 iron, the famous 5 iron.

Q.  You put yourself in position to finish with a win and clinch the Vare Trophy.  How meaningful would an ending like this be?
STACY LEWIS:  It would be huge.  I wanted to play good today just to kind of take all the worry out of tomorrow for Vare Trophy.  I definitely overachieved what I thought I could do on this golf course, so I'm right back in the mix of things.  I think I'm going to have to do it again, probably maybe not as low, but it's got to be a good one again tomorrow to be there.

Q.  Was there a part of you that was legitimately ticked that you stayed up late at that banquet last night and your competition went home?
STACY LEWIS:  No, I think it all comes around at the end and things usually work out the way they're supposed to.  You know, I was asked to come a few weeks ago and so I came.  I was glad I came just to support Inbee.  She did a great speech last night.  I know how hard that is, I know how hard she's worked to get there, so I was glad I was there.

Q.  Where does this ‑‑ you played a lot of rounds this year, but considering, you know, this might have been a day you might have (inaudible) because you were a ways back and instead you really ground it out and had a great round.  Where does this stand in the rounds you've had this year?
STACY LEWIS:  It's up there pretty high more just because of the Vare Trophy.  We kind of ‑‑ we became ‑‑ I think average‑wise we became closer after the last two rounds so that was more my motivation than anything.  Once I got ‑‑ once I was like 5‑under on the day, I kind of started looking at the leaderboard saying if I can make a few more, I can give myself a chance going into tomorrow.  Definitely one of the best rounds of the year.

Q.  You've played a little more than almost any of the other top players in terms of the amount of tournaments you've played.  Is that something you came into the year saying, you know, you feel like ‑‑ is it a fitness thing or mentally you were able to go a little bit longer?
STACY LEWIS:  I don't know.  I think the last few years I think I've played 26, 27 events, that's kind of been my thing, and just, I mean, I like playing a lot.  I usually play better when I play more tournaments in a row, so that's more kind of the motive behind it.  As long as I feel fresh on Sunday, I know I'm not doing too much.

PRESS CONFERENCE

MODERATOR:  I would like to welcome in Rolex Rankings No. 3 into the interview room, Stacy Lewis.  Stacy, ties your career low, nice little 63 today, new tournament record, had to be a very good day.  Did you feel that coming?  You were out partying late last night at the Rolex Awards celebration, but talk about the round, what a solid day.

STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, I definitely didn't expect it.  I've been struggling with my swing and kind of my putting all week, hadn't really hit the ball very good, hadn't made any putts, but yesterday afternoon and then this morning just kind of found a few things that clicked, and it was kind of hard to trust at times but it really came together and just got off to a good start and holed out for eagle on 3, played a solid front nine and then just started hitting some really good approach shots on the back nine and made all the putts.  So it was, I mean, it's definitely one of the best rounds of the year.

MODERATOR:  I heard it was the famous 5 iron again on 3.  Is that a shot that really jump starts a round?  I know holing out, obviously a great shot, feels good, but do you think that really kind of was the jump start to it all?
STACY LEWIS:  I don't know.  I think ‑‑ well, actually the first two holes I had to make two 5‑footers for par and then I hole out and again leave myself another downhill slider 5‑footer on 4, so I think actually making those couple short putts, getting some confidence with the putter actually helped more than holing out that shot because those are the putts that I hadn't been making the last two days and I think to see those go in early definitely kind of freed me up.

MODERATOR:  Now of course I'll bring up and we've talked about it all week, the Vare Trophy.  Giving you a little pressure, you and Suzann were kind of neck and neck heading into today.  She wasn't there last night up with you on stage, a little bit of motivation, you thought all right, I've got to go out and do this now.

STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, it did a little bit.  I think things all work out the way they're supposed to and, you know, I said I would go and I fulfilled my commitment.  I was glad I was there more than anything to see ‑‑ just to see Inbee get her award.  The speech she gave was unbelievable because I know how hard that is, I know how hard it is to write the speech, to do it.  She deserved her night and I'm glad I was there.

MODERATOR:  I got to see you congratulate her right afterwards, she was taking a picture and you said "thank you" because she mentioned both you and Suzann in her speech.  You guys kind of have a parallel from you last year going through the whirlwind of the Player of the Year, the media, then you kind of got to see her go through it, too.  Just talk about seeing her kind of being poised and handling all of the hoopla of working with it.
STACY LEWIS:  I mean, just playing with Inbee on Monday you could see that she was a lot more relaxed.  I know that feeling of trying to clinch Player of the Year and you're worried about every single shot and every single putt.  She's definitely more relaxed now that it's all over with.  We've all made each other better.  I can say thank you to them as well because seeing them be successful and seeing them win tournaments, it's raised my standards and shown me that you can win three majors in a year.  I don't know if that's anybody's goal, but I think Inbee showed that you can and that's what kind of motivated me this last half the year.

Q.  What were the details on the hole‑out?
STACY LEWIS:  I was 177 and the wind was a little bit in off the right and just a perfect 5 iron.  I didn't even see it go in, I just saw ‑‑ there were about five volunteers up by the green and all their hands went up in the air so that's how I knew it was in.

Q.  Best 5 iron of the year?
STACY LEWIS:  No, not even close.

Q.  Stacy, last year you were the first American in 18 years to win Player of the Year, you're going to become the first American in 19 years to win the Vare Trophy.  It's also still possible you could become the first player in 20 years to win the Vare and the money list.  What do these things mean to you?
STACY LEWIS:  I mean, they mean a lot, just to be included on the list.  When you see the list of the past winner more than anything, just to ‑‑ I mean, Annika, Lorena, Karrie, to be included on the list with those people, I mean, that's just a dream come true.  And to think ‑‑ I mean, coming out on Tour did I ever think I could ever win any of these awards?  Absolutely not.  Just to be in the running for it is a huge honor.  You know, today definitely made ‑‑ is going to make tomorrow a lot easier.  You know, I think Beth and hopefully Betsy will be pretty happy, too, that they get to stop hearing their name being talked about.

MODERATOR:  Talk about your relationship with Beth.  Have you guys talked recently or been in touch, because I know like you said it was a huge deal last year becoming the first American and Beth was the last time.
STACY LEWIS:  We haven't talked, but I did ‑‑ I was sitting at the awards thing last night just kind of thinking about what she told me last year before I went to Asia and everything was on the line trying to clinch Player of the Year, and I thought about what she said to me, that you can't control what anybody else does, you can take care of yourself, you can take care of one shot at a time and that's what I tried to do today.  Suzann was playing right behind me and I told myself I was not going to look back there all day long, I wasn't going to look at a leaderboard and I was just going to take care of myself and that's what I did.

Q.  The way you're playing right now, do you wish ‑‑ (inaudible)?
STACY LEWIS:  Well, I'm going to play in Dubai, so I still have one more event.  But I'm ready for some time off, I'm ready to put the clubs away for a couple weeks and rest my brain.  You know, the game's going to be there when I get back, but I need to let myself relax for a little bit.

Q.  Have you ever had a day where when you started you were 11 shots back so when you walked off the course you were even, you were tied for the lead?
STACY LEWIS:  I have no idea.  I mean, honestly, I didn't think I was out of this golf tournament.  I didn't think at all just the way this course plays with the wind, I don't think anybody's going to run away with it so I knew I wasn't out of it.  I knew I needed a good score today.  I certainly didn't think it was going to be 9‑under, but I knew I wasn't out of it.  I draw from the British Open all the time.  I was three shots behind going into the 17th hole.  So with that fact right there it's kind of freed me up to say anything is possible and you've just got to keep hanging in there.

Q.  Stacy, as a player, what's the difference between playing in front of tens of people, hundreds of people, thousands of people?  How does it matter, if at all?
STACY LEWIS:  I don't think ‑‑ I mean, I don't think it matters too much.  I mean, when people are really close into the ropes I think that's the hardest time, but, you know, a lot of times I don't really pay attention to how many people are following our group or how many people are watching.  I mean, you certainly realize they're there, but the size of the crowd, I don't think it really affects things.

Q.  Stacy, at what point in the season do you start paying attention to your statistics, specifically your scoring average and where you stand and maybe even the money list?  Do you check in every week?
STACY LEWIS:  I like looking at stats because I'm a numbers person so I like just following numbers and seeing what ‑‑ if somebody's playing better than me, what are they doing stat wise, what are they doing that is better.  So I like looking at that stuff.  But the end of the year stuff I don't really look at too much until the end of the year.  I mean, I would say over these last few weeks I've definitely been watching the Vare Trophy.  The weeks I didn't play I was definitely watching what Suzann did.  I tried to not look at scores, but I couldn't help myself.  I'm a numbers person.  I mean, I can do the numbers in my head and I try to not think about it too much but it's been there.

Q.  Any particular player you looked at?
STACY LEWIS:  Well, I would say Suzann.  I mean, she wasn't really doing ‑‑ I mean winning wise at the beginning of the year but she was always there.  She's somebody that I ‑‑ you watch her play and kind of wonder, you know, she makes putts here and there but she hits it so solid and I think she leads the Tour in greens in regulation.  She gets it done that way.  Inbee gets it done with a putter.  I kind of do a combination of both, but I just like looking at stats and seeing what people do well, and if they do something well, what can I learn from it.  Suzann, she's really methodical in the greens and she thinks about where she wants to leave shots and that's something I've tried to get better at over the last couple years.

Q.  I'm just curious when you said it makes tomorrow easier, I'm thinking you meant that in relation to the Vare Trophy.  What about the overall tournament when you've got 10 players separated by three shots right now, how would you describe that part of it?
STACY LEWIS:  I don't know.  I think when tournaments are so close like that you can't watch leaderboards because people are going to get on runs, some people are going to make birdies early, some people are going to make birdies late.  You have to just take care of yourself.  That's the big thing I've learned when tournaments are close is to not watch the leaderboards early.  Maybe you think about it, look at them towards the end of the round, but early, take care of yourself and more than anything it's just going to be nice not having to worry about my scoring average because I've been thinking about that way too much the last few weeks.

Q.  Stacy, the Vare Trophy's named after a golfer from the 1920s and golf is one of the very few women's sport that has a history that's recorded that goes back that long.  I'm just wondering at what point in your career did you start maybe having an appreciation for just how far back the history of women's golf goes and does that mean something special that that trophy goes back to somebody that far back?
STACY LEWIS:  I mean, as a kid I don't think you really appreciate kind of what people do before you and the opportunities you have, but definitely once I got on Tour, you know, I made it a point to get to know the older players, the Hall of Famers.  I made it a point to do that because I wanted to know what it was like for them, what did they have to go through.  Even last night hearing Louise Suggs talk about ‑‑ I don't think it was Louise who talked about it, but just doing the clinics and all the things they used to do for free.  Now we're always like oh, what am I going to get paid for it, what am I going to get out of it.  But they just did it because they loved the game and they wanted to make our Tour better and that's something that I think we need to continue to spread to all the kids and to the players on Tour that we need to continue to build this Tour and take what these founders did and move it forward.  I mean, to have my name as a part of history is a huge honor and hopefully I take care of that tomorrow.

 

LEXI THOMPSON, Rolex Rankings No. 10

Q.  Have you let yourself look at the leaderboard?  I mean, this leaderboard is shaping up to be just like, you know, star studded.
LEXI THOMPSON:  I really didn't look at the leaderboard today, I was just doing my own thing out there and just trying to make birdies.  My first nine went pretty slow, you know, I didn't get off to the start I wanted to, but you can take advantage of the back nine and make some birdies and that's what I did coming in.

Q.  You've been on such a nice run.  I mean, do you just sort of feel like, you know, today is just sort of a continuation of what you've been doing for the last few weeks?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah.  Well, today was a lot better than yesterday, that's for sure.  I had a little rough day yesterday, but I'm just trying to put myself in contention in every tournament and just play consistently and work on things I've been working on in my game.  Hopefully tomorrow I'll just bring that out for the final round and stick to my ball striking and make a few putts out there.

Q.  What's the best thing about having your brother on the bag?
LEXI THOMPSON:  The best thing?  I would say just hanging out with him.  You know, I haven't seen him in such a long time and we get along so well, so it's really nice to see him and just have fun out there.

Q.  He was walking off and someone said like, Nice putt, and he said, Well, that's the one thing I'm good at.  Is he really helpful on the greens?  Where does he help you the most?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, pretty much.  I mean, he's read every putt for me out there, so a lot of teamwork on the greens.  I mean, other than that I usually pick my own clubs, I commit to that, but on the green he helps me a lot.

Q.  You said Solheim really helped you in terms of it was the most pressure you had ever felt.
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah.

Q.  And so after that I'm wondering now has that made Sundays, I don't want to say easy, but maybe a little easier because you're going to go in in contention but you don't maybe get as nervous because of what you went through with Solheim?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, I would say that definitely helps.  You know, Sundays are usually never easy with being in contention, but you just have to go out there and play your own game.  But Solheim was the most adrenaline I've ever felt over shots because you're playing for your country, not playing for yourself only.  You're playing for yourself and your country and your team, so there's a lot of pressure.  But, you know, pulling off those shots under those circumstances just makes you even more confident over the shots just in regular tournaments.

Q.  Are you generally not a leaderboard watcher?  Because if this holds up the way it is tomorrow, there's going to be a huge logjam of extremely good players.  Do you think you'll watch it or do you generally not do that regardless?
LEXI THOMPSON:  You know, I mean it's sort of hard not to look at it when there's a few every few holes, but I'm really just going to try to play my own game and not worry about the other players.  I mean, if I play well tomorrow and it doesn't end up happening, as long as I played well and stuck to my own game, that's all that matters.

 

GERINA PILLER, Rolex Rankings No. 53

MODERATOR:  All right, everyone, we would like to welcome one of our current leaders, Gerina Piller, 5‑under par round today to get you to 11‑under par and in a three‑way tie for the third round lead.  Pretty exciting day I'm sure for you.  Take me through the day, what was really working well for you out there.
GERINA PILLER:  Just kind of hitting fairways and hitting greens and making putts.  The first hole, all three of us kind of squirreled a little right and I luckily was just in the pine straw and just squeezed out a par on the first hole, so I was like okay, I'm doing all right. 

Birdied 2, that's a tough hole, pin's back and you have to be really precise with your second shot and it was into the wind, so you definitely don't have a short iron so that was good to walk away from that hole with a birdie. 

Just from there I tried to just keep doing what I was doing and keep it in the fairway and hit it on the green and putts will drop.  So I birdied, I don't know what my next ‑‑ oh, the par 3.  That's a tough little par 3, it's longer, and just hit it up there with a 6 iron and rolled it in and had some opportunities coming in and just kind of barely missed.  I just told myself just stay patient and just keep doing what you're doing, and on the back nine they just kept falling, so yeah.

MODERATOR:  It's been quite an exciting year for you playing on your first U.S. Solheim Cup team, putting together a lot of solid finishes.  When you look back on 2013, what is going to be kind of the memories that stick out for you so far?
GERINA PILLER:  Yeah, it's been great, but man, it's exhausting.  I would say just my consistent play and obviously Solheim, that was just one of the best things that's ever happened to me.  It's definitely helped my game since then and I just want to carry that over to next year and it just really helped me grow as a player.

MODERATOR:  So I heard you on Golf Channel earlier talking about what a $700,000 first place prize check would mean because you recently bought a house?
GERINA PILLER:  We did, we just bought a house in Ft. Worth, Texas, and it would be ‑‑ we would definitely pay that sucker off.

MODERATOR:  It's amazing what one of those large first prize checks ‑‑
GERINA PILLER:  Yeah, maybe do a little shopping.

MODERATOR:  When you find yourself sitting where you're at right now, tied for the lead entering the final round, it's not necessarily a position that you found yourself in I'm sure very frequently on the LPGA Tour.  What kind of ‑‑ mentally, how do you kind of prep yourself heading into tomorrow and what would a victory here this week mean to you?
GERINA PILLER:  Well, tomorrow I think I'm just going to keep telling myself what I've been telling myself, when you stand on that first tee, just because you're nervous doesn't mean you're going to hit a bad shot.  I feel like I'm striking it well and this win would be ‑‑ I mean, just winning has always been a goal of mine and I've never won as a professional.  So, for one, I'm excited that I put myself in this position to begin with and just have fun with it.  It's the last round of the year.

Q.  Can you comment on how being in contention at the LPGA Championship last year and then playing in the Solheim Cup maybe has helped your confidence and prepared you for tomorrow?
GERINA PILLER:  Yeah, it's been a huge help.  It's been ‑‑ you know, when you first see your name up there, I kind of got a little nervous and that's just added pressure that you don't need.  And now that playing on the Solheim Cup and hitting those shots when I needed to and standing on the first tee and hitting the fairway every day, that's been a huge boost of confidence and it's definitely ‑‑ it's huge when you have that mental picture when you're standing over the shots and you kind of take yourself out of what you're doing now and kind of puts you back and gives you just a ton of confidence to just let it happen.  It's been huge.

MODERATOR:  When you look back on that Solheim Cup, how has golf really been different for you after?  I know you were a player that many people probably didn't know very well and all of a sudden you're on that team and people get to know you.  Have you noticed a difference in how golf fans react to you since that Solheim Cup?
GERINA PILLER:  Definitely.  Our American fan base has been great.  Every time I see them, great job at Solheim, and it's just been huge support and a huge confidence boost.  Out here it's easy to get in the mindset like do I belong or am I good enough to win, and when you compete on that kind of level, I think that it shows a lot of what your potential is and how you handle things.

MODERATOR:  You also talked about your consistent play.  What's been the biggest difference do you think in your game over the past year and a half really when you look back to that LPGA Championship, what's really been coming around that's putting together this great stretch of golf that you've been playing?
GERINA PILLER:  Well, I switched coaches about a week before I left for Australia.  I wasn't even going to Australia because I couldn't break 45 on nine holes.  Switched coaches and my ball striking has been so consistent.  Just been working really hard on my putting and I just feel like when I'm hitting it good and I'm putting it good, the scores are going to be pretty low.

Q.  What's it going to be like when you have somebody like Stacy, who just shot a 63, and Lexi's been very hot right behind you and probably a hole or two ahead of you before you tee off tomorrow?
GERINA PILLER:  I mean, they're great players and they make a lot of birdies, so for me I'm just going to go out there and focus on my game and just try to make as many birdies as I can and see what the outcome is when I'm done.  That's the only thing you can do is worry about yourself, and if I can take care of myself, then I think the rest will take care of itself.


PORNANONG PHATLUM, Rolex Rankings No. 56

Q.  You're getting lower and lower with every round.
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah.

Q.  Do you feel like more comfortable on this course do you think?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yes.

Q.  Does that have something to do with it?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm.  I just like more focused about putting because I feel comfortable about hitting and today hitting very good, putting today.

Q.  I think last time, I mean in Portland you said your ball striking was something you were confident, you said you were okay hitting the ball but you said it was putting there, too, right?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm.

Q.  So do you think it's just something that you've been continuously working on, has that been even since in Portland?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah.

Q.  That's pretty much the part of your game you've been super concentrating on?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah, get better and better.

Q.  Has it been anything with the greens here, the grasses, trying to get used to them?  I know it's a new course.
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  A little bit, but just I think green is tough like strong, like firm, more firm every day.  It just like keep concentrate, yeah, how I have to do.

Q.  What about the sixth hole, as I'm seeing you eagled it both the first and second day?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah.

Q.  Take me through those.
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Chip‑ins. 

Q.  Chip‑ins? 
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm.  First day like 30‑yard and second round like 50 yard.

Q.  Wow, it's your lucky hole.  Today you get there and you're like, oh, gosh, do I have to eagle it again?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  No, just par.

Q.  Par on there, that's okay, you can take that.  No bogeys today?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah.

Q.  Are you pleased with that, kind of minimizing mistakes?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm.

Q.  Everyone says here stay out of water, stay out of trouble, that something that you're happy with?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  I like putting working good too today.

Q.  Yeah.
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  I have to save par and I can make it.

Q.  How important is it do you think just to finish on a strong note?  Obviously so far this week you've been playing very well, but how important was it for you coming into this week you want to finish strong and finish well?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Tomorrow would be get a lot of pressure.  I want to try like stay on my game and trust in myself to do every shot by shot.

Q.  I know.  I remember in Portland when we talked you said you're not very used to being at the top of the leaderboard.  Did that experience help?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah.

Q.  Obviously the more you're in it, the more you're more comfortable.  Do you think that helped a lot?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm, now I get experience.

Q.  How about the winner's check, the biggest winner's check on Tour.  Not to put any more pressure, but that has to be a pretty good incentive.

PORNANONG PHATLUM:  I just want to have fun on the golf course and play my game like that.  I don't want to think about that.

Q.  What about off season plans, anything for the off season, go back to Thailand?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Yeah, but I have tournament in Dubai.

Q.  Now the International Crown teams were announced.  How excited are you about that?
PORNNANONG PHATLUM:  Excited, yeah.

Q.  Ithink Thailand's going to be the dark horse.  How excited are you to play with the rest of you guys?  I know you're very close, you're a tight‑knit group.
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  Um‑hmm.

Q.  How is that going to be playing all together as a team?
PORNANONG PHATLUM:  I don't know, like it's fun.

 

MICHELLE WIE, Rolex Rankings No. 65

MODERATOR:  We welcome Michelle Wie into the interview room.  Michelle, awesome round, 6‑under 66, jumped from tied for 23rd into a tie for 6th.  How was the day?  Obviously a very, very solid round for you.

MICHELLE WIE:  Yeah, it was good.  I finally made some putts, finally felt like I was playing on the same that everyone else was playing on, the course that everyone with the low numbers are.  But it was a fun day out there today, hit a couple balls in the native, but got some good recovery from it.

MODERATOR:  Talk about conditions.  A little less windy.  Breezy conditions yesterday kind of was a challenge.  Talk about today, perfect scoring conditions?  A lot of low numbers.

MICHELLE WIE:  Yeah, definitely it's a lot easier without the wind.  Yesterday was a lot more difficult than today but it's a tough golf course.  I worked really hard to shoot 66.  Stacy's 63 is phenomenal out here.  There were a lot of low scores.  So tomorrow, just have to shoot a low one.

MODERATOR:  You got to play with Lydia again.  Talk about your guys' relationship.  I know you guys go back and forth on Twitter all the time.  You say, oh, I'm feeling old and she says you're not old.  Talk about her coming out, making her pro debut and kind of seeing her go through some of the growing pains of starting as a professional.

MICHELLE WIE:  You know, she's such a phenomenal player and she does make me feel very old today.  I mean, the first‑day grouping with Korda and Lydia, they're both 16 and 20, and today again 16 and 21.  It's kind of funny being the oldest of the group at 24.  But she's a phenomenal player.  She's got a really great head on her shoulders and I feel honored to play with her in her professional debut.  I remember my professional debut and it was fun to look back and kind of remember.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Now, season‑ending event.  You had some up and downs, you had some good rounds this year, bad rounds this year.  Talk about the importance of finishing strong going into the off season this year.

MICHELLE WIE:  Yeah, you know, I definitely want to finish strong.  I want to go out there and give it all I have and I'm just really grateful for the opportunity that I have a chance to win tomorrow.  So I'm just going to go out there and have fun and give it 110 percent.

MODERATOR:  It's going to feel any different going into Sunday?  Obviously being kind of towards the top of the leaderboard, give you a little extra motivation than maybe say being a little lower on the leaderboard?

MICHELLE WIE:  For sure.  You know, it's always fun being in contention and it's a lot of fun.

Q.  When you're seeing putts go in and you're gaining confidence with your putter, does that filter into your whole game?  Does it work like that this year?

MICHELLE WIE:  Oh, yeah, for sure.  I started feeling a lot more confident with my putting this year.  It definitely goes into your long game, you don't feel like you have to hit it in to two feet to make birdies every hole.  You get to 15 feet, you go up and think, oh, I can make that.  So definitely it runs through the entire game.  It makes golf a lot more fun when you're making putts.

Q.  Michelle, is there any way in which it's helpful to you to play with Lydia, that you somehow are able to channel your 16‑year old self when you are playing with her?

MICHELLE WIE:  I don't know.  It's just fun playing with her, she's a great girl.  And I think so, I think it kind of makes me feel young again.  I am young, but it makes me feel young again.

Q.  I know you're tired of talking about it, but since it's the one‑year anniversary of the putting stance, can you tell us again why it works and if it's ‑‑ I mean, have you gotten better at it over the last year and maybe ways that you've tweaked it, perfected it?

MICHELLE WIE:  Yeah, it is the one‑year anniversary, I was just thinking that today.  It's just ‑‑ I just feel more comfortable over it.  I can't really explain the physics of it or like the reason why it works, but it works for me.  You know, I see the line a lot more.  I feel lower ‑‑ obviously I feel lower to the ground, but I think I'm like at 80 degrees now, not like 90, which is a slight improvement.  I feel like it's good because I didn't change one thing to my putting all year, I just worked at the same exact thing, just worked on my speed and actually just worked on making putts rather than working on my technique.  So that's what I'm really proud of this year is just that I haven't really tweaked around, messed around with my technique like I always used to, I just go out there on the putting green and I actually practice making putts, so I feel a lot more confident now.

Q.  I'm sorry, but who invented this thing?

MICHELLE WIE:  Me, proud creator of the tabletop.  Trademark, patent pending.

Q.  I actually mean that kind of seriously.  Does it feel good that this is something you own, that no one else has done, that this is something you've done all by yourself and it's yours?

MICHELLE WIE:  Yeah, I guess so.  I kind of did it in the middle of the round last year.  I was putting really poorly and I was like, oh, I'll just try this, and I kind of went down and I didn't really ‑‑ it kind of shocked me when I looked at it on screen for the first time because it really didn't feel like that.  But it feels good, it feels good that I found something that, like you said, I created myself, I kind of did it myself and it feels good.

 

NATALIE GULBIS, Rolex Rankings No. 106

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  We would like to welcome our current leader, Natalie Gulbis, into the interview room.  11‑under par, a great round, 7‑under that you shot today.  Pretty impressive day out there on the golf course. 

Can you just take me through the day and what really was working well in your game?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I had hit the ball well the last couple days and the very first hole I bogeyed, I hit a 5 iron into the water.  From there I just hit everything really solid and made eight birdies.

MODERATOR:  This is your lowest round since Kraft last year.  What has been kind of going on with your game and what has been coming together this week to put you up there at the top of the leaderboard?
NATALIE GULBIS:  Well, what's been going on with my game is I've been off for three weeks and I've been home in Las Vegas working with my coach, Butch Harmon.  I didn't play that well in Asia and there was a lot to do on my golf game. 

I changed irons, which as any player knows it's quite a process to change irons and switch to the new TaylorMade irons and just spent a lot of time with Butch redoing every aspect of my game and just working on fundamentals.  And I played in the Wendy's last week and played really well there, so now it's been nice it's carried over to this week.

MODERATOR:  You guys pulled out a victory at the Wendy's.
NATALIE GULBIS:  We did.  I never know if we're supposed to say anything or not because it used to be a secret and then it kind of gets out in the media.  But yes, we did win, Stacy and I played together on that team, and Cristie and all the girls played well during that day.  They're still playing well this week, too.

MODERATOR:  I was going to say it's carried over to the leaderboard this week.
NATALIE GULBIS:  It has.

MODERATOR:  It's always great, too, when you can represent the LPGA at an event like that and play so well.
NATALIE GULBIS:  It's awesome, and especially beat the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour boys.  The guys I think are always expected to win and so it's always extra special when the LPGA team wins.

MODERATOR:  In addition to playing golf this week, you've had a busy week off the golf course.
NATALIE GULBIS:  One of the busiest weeks all year.  There's a lot going on here this week.

MODERATOR:  We've talked about how busy this week has been, but you've been, it seems, everywhere between shooting commercials, you did a social stunt for us the other night for our Twitter account, and then you were on the red carpet last night hosting for Golf Channel, interviewing players for our Rolex Awards celebration. 

What's this week been like for you keeping busy on all these off‑the‑golf course activities?
NATALIE GULBIS:  It has been very busy.  It's only been busy between like 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. though.  That's been the real busy times.  But it's been busy for all the girls this week.  This is the Tour championship and we have a lot of exciting things going on with the Tour.  The schedule was just released and we had the Rolex Awards last night and shooting different things.  So I think all the girls are really busy.  But this is a great season‑ending event and it's so convenient because everything's kind of right here.

Q.  I'm sorry to start with this, but can you kind of give us a recap of the illness you dealt with this year, exactly when it happened, how much time it took you away from the game and all that stuff? 
NATALIE GULBIS:  Yeah. 

Q.  Nice round today.
NATALIE GULBIS:  Thank you.  I got sick at the very first event of the year, which was very disappointing because I had had a really good off season and was really excited to come out and actually healthy and feeling good, my back was feeling good, and I got sick in Thailand.  Then I missed, gosh, four or five events.  It wasn't until Rochester this year was the first event where I just wasn't beyond exhausted to where I could actually practice after the round and started feeling better.  Then from Rochester on I felt good and felt back to normal and feel great now.

Q.  Malaria? 
NATALIE GULBIS:  Yeah.

Q.  How did they treat it?
NATALIE GULBIS:  How did they treat it?  I got treated in Singapore and then I got treated when I came back to California and was with great doctors with a lot of medicine that I cannot pronounce.

MODERATOR:  When you have to battle something like that, how much rest does that require and how much does it take for you to kind of get over the disappointment?  I mean, you were coming off some good performances last year.  You said you felt great during the off season.  How tough is it mentally to overcome?
NATALIE GULBIS:  Very tough.  Many of you guys know me and I'm not very good at resting.  I think as an athlete, they said you're probably going to battle this for the next six months and you should probably take the next two months and just relax.  So I thought that if I cut that in half and then cut that in half that I could probably get back for that.  So I kept on trying to get back and play, and every single time I would get back out and play, it would relapse and they would say, we told you this was going to happen.  So then I would get a little bit better and do everything I was supposed to do, and then I would try to play and then I would relapse a second time. 

So it was getting frustrating, but I also, I mean looking back, I enjoyed the break, too.  I was home with my family and they took great care of me and it was nice having some time to just relax.  But during it, no, I was frustrated because I was watching ‑‑ I watched a lot of LPGA golf during that time.

Q.  You do so much for the Tour and always have a smile on your face, but at the end of the day I know you want to win, that's why you're out here.  Does 2007 feel like a long time ago since that's happened and how much do you think about that?
NATALIE GULBIS:  It seems like a very long time ago and I think about it all day long, and every single time I practice or I work out I'm reminded that I haven't won an individual title since 2007, and even though I've had good finishes or played good golf, it's still not an individual win.  So it's something that definitely motivates me and it's something that I want to achieve again.

Q.  Then with a big event coming next month, how much does your ‑‑ what's going on in your personal life affect you at all on the golf course in terms of relaxing you?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I'm getting married before the end of this year, this month.  It's great, it's great.  I'm excited to be married and I've been engaged most of the year, so that's been fun.  I'm not planning any big wedding so I haven't been stressed out with any of that.  But it's really fun being engaged because everybody throws you parties, which is awesome.  Like your family throws you a party, your friends on Tour throw you parties, every host family that I've been to this year, they like to celebrate.  So it's been really positive and exciting.  And I almost got married on the same day as Beth Ann, so I had to change the date.

MODERATOR:  As Beth Ann talked about, you've been such a great ambassador for the LPGA Tour.  We've talked about what it means to have a founder‑like mentality.  Is that something that you kind of have really embraced throughout your career is trying to be like our 13 founders and really reach out to fans and do those things to really represent the LPGA Tour in the best way possible?
NATALIE GULBIS:  Absolutely.  I remember my rookie year and Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster throughout the year telling me what it meant to be an American LPGA Tour player and what was expected of me and that I was to leave the Tour in a better spot than when I came into it and how important it was to set a good example for the next generations.  And I hope that I've made them proud because it was really important to me when they told me that and I want to be able to also share that with the young American players and make them proud, too, because they're players that I look up to, and Nancy Lopez the same.  I got to see her last night, she was my hero growing up and I remember how she was with how she treated being an LPGA Tour player and with the fans.

Q.  How did you get in the position to hit 5 iron into the water on 1, and then I wonder if you could talk about the three birdies in a row string you put together starting on 3?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I was in the center of the fairway and hitting a very easy layup with a 5 iron to the right center of the fairway and I pulled it straight into the water and then hit a pretty good wedge and made bogey.  Then I guess I birdied the next three holes, I don't remember exactly.  But I had struck the ball well all week.  I mean, bogeys happen, everyone's going to make bogeys and just was able to recover, rolled a couple putts in after that.

Q.  It was a bit unlucky I think?
NATALIE GULBIS:  Yeah, it was, but golf is like that.  Just when you think you're playing well, something really just off the wall happens.  And then the same reverse, just when you want to give up the game, you hit this spectacular shot and it keeps you coming back.

MODERATOR:  Then you just can't wait to get back on the golf course after you do that.
NATALIE GULBIS:  Yes.

Q.  Is it really nerve wracking like being in the lead and going into the final day?
NATALIE GULBIS:  It is nerve wracking, but it's awesome.  It's so much more fun.  Today was so much more fun than just finishing 30th or 50th.  To be in the mix and to be making birdies and to be playing well is what you practice for, what you play for, and to have that adrenaline and that nervousness, it's what makes all these players tick and why they practice so hard and want to keep winning more and more.  So no, it definitely is challenging in your first couple years when you're on Tour, but it's something to be embraced because it's a lot of fun.

Q.  Being in the lead going to your final round, how do you like turn your mental game on in order to stay in it and not get too far ahead of yourself?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I mean, I just kind of take it moment by moment.  You never know what can happen whether you're in the lead or you're 10 shots back.  Stacy today I know was sitting at even par and she shot 9‑under.  So from a mental standpoint, just don't change anything.  My mental process has been pretty similar for most of the 12 years that I've been on Tour.  Sometimes you strike it better days and sometimes you putt better and hopefully that will be tomorrow.

Q.  You said your mental game is pretty much the same.  Do you have any other rituals that you do consistently, like little lucky things that you do?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I don't.  I was really superstitious my first couple years on Tour, but it's very difficult to keep up with your superstitions because if one fails you before you go and play, then something completely goes sideways.  As a junior player I had a lot of superstitions.  My dad and I used to go to McDonald's before every single round and it was ‑‑ even going into like my fourth or fifth year on Tour my dad still would go to McDonald's before every single round.  So it's funny that the people around you have really strict superstitions but I don't have any in particular.

Q.  What were some of the other superstitions?
NATALIE GULBIS:  That I had?

Q.  Yeah.
NATALIE GULBIS:  Oh, my gosh.  Colors, if I didn't play well in an outfit, I wouldn't wear that.  Eating the same thing for breakfast, watching the same shows.  My first couple years, one of my sponsors is Outback and I used to think that I played well every single time I had a Victoria filet and steamed broccoli, so I would eat the same thing and would obnoxiously go out of the way with my family or friends or whatever.  Like they would want to go somewhere else and would be so sick of getting the same meal all the time.  Just the rituals that you have, listening to the same songs and just doing the same things.  But it's very hard to keep up with those.  I mean, I have routines and I try to stick to the same thing, but if you have too many ‑‑ at least when I had too many superstitions, when one doesn't go your way, then that's really mentally exhausting.

MODERATOR:  We're entering the final day of the final event of the 2013 season, $700,000 is on the line for the first place prize check.  What would it mean to you to walk away with that trophy tomorrow?
NATALIE GULBIS:  I mean, to walk away with the trophy.  It wouldn't matter what amount the first place was, to win another individual title would be huge for me and I have ‑‑ I really ‑‑ this event is a little bit extra special for me because I used to play in the pro‑am here with Terry Duffy and CME Group when they had it way before there was ever really an LPGA event and Terry would always say, Someday I'm going to have an LPGA event, someday I'm going to have an LPGA event, and had these strong goals to have the event.  It's really cool the last couple years that CME Group has taken over this event and has turned it into really just an incredible Tour championship.

 

Topics: Notes and Interviews, CME Group Tour Championship, Gulbis, Natalie, Lewis, Stacy, Thompson, Lexi, Piller, Gerina, Park, Inbee [+]