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Lilia Vu rallies to win in Florida and closes in on LPGA player of the year

BELLEAIR, Fla. (AP) — Lilia Vu seized momentum early with three birdies and closed with a 4-under 66 to win The Annika on Sunday for her fourth victory of the year, which allowed the American to regain the No. 1 ranking and close in on LPGA player of the year.

Vu started the final round at Pelican Golf Club three shots behind Emily Kristine Pedersen, opened with three birdies in six holes and then pulled away with crisp approach shots that set up back-to-back birdies to pull away.

Vu came into the tournament a mere three points behind another four-time winner, Celine Boutier, in the race for the points-based LPGA player of the year. Boutier missed the cut this weekend. Vu is now 27 points ahead going into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Boutier's only chance is to win next week and have Vu finish eighth or worse.

It was a devastating end for Pedersen, the Dane who went from trying to capture her first LPGA Tour title to seeing her season finish abruptly.

It was bad enough that Pedersen failed to make a birdie. She still was well positioned to move from No. 80 into the top 60 in the Race to CME Globe to advance to the season finale down the Florida coast in Naples. But on her final hole, Pedersen hit into the water and made double bogey. That gave her a 74 and knocked her out of the top 60.

Madelene Sagstrom missed the cut and appeared to fall out of the top 60 when Stephanie Kyriacou of Australia closed with a 67 to tie for fifth. But Pedersen's double bogey allowed Sagstrom to advance.

Boutier, despite missing the cut and Vu winning, still finished atop the standings, not that it matters. All 60 players next week only have to win the CME Group Tour Championship to claim the $2 million prize.

“You may as well go shoot the lights out,” Kyriacou said.

Vu is virtually a lock to win other awards as the LPGA's top player. Two of her four wins were at majors, the Chevron Championship and the Women's British Open. The former UCLA star would be the first American to win the award since Stacy Lewis in 2014.

She finished at 19-under 261, three shots clear of Alison Lee and Azahara Munoz of Spain, who each closed with a 67.

Munoz came into the tournament at No. 100 in the Race to CME Globe, hopeful of getting into the top 80 to secure her card, even though she could lean on an exemption for maternity leave. She nearly made it all the way to season finale.

“I’ve never been so close to losing my card I guess,” Munoz said. “Never been in that situation. I don’t want to be in it again. Trying to win a tournament is stressful, but trying to keep your card is very, very stressful.”

Patty Tavatanakit had some stress, too. She got back into contention with a 62 on Saturday, but the final round was a struggle until a late birdie gave her enough of a margin that her bogey on the final hole didn't knock her out of the top 60.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf