American Lexi Thompson became the youngest champion in the LPGA’s 61-year history, the 16-year-old prodigy firing a two-under par-70 on Sunday to capture the Navistar Classic by five strokes.
Thompson, who is seven months and eight days beyond her 16th birthday, finished 72 holes on 17-under par-271 at the US$1.3 million event to defeat compatriot Tiffany Joh by five shots and American Angela Stanford by six. Taiwan’s Yani Tseng carded a 69 to finish tied for 25th place on three-under 285.
American Marlene Hagge won the 18-hole Sarasota Open in 1952 just two weeks past her 18th birthday to become what had been the youngest LPGA champion.
Paula Creamer, another American, was nine months and 17 days past her 18th birthday when she won the 2005 Sybase Classic to become the youngest winner of a typical multiround event until Thompson’s triumph.
Thompson, who turned pro in June last year, birdied the par-3 second and suddenly only playing partner Meena Lee of South Korea was within eight strokes of the lead, and Lee was six adrift.
A birdie at the par-5 eighth gave Thompson a personal-record 20th birdie of the week. Lee birdied the ninth to stay within six, but began the back nine with a bogey to leave Thompson seven clear of the field at 17-under.
Thompson, who made only three bogeys in the first three rounds, stumbled with back-to-back bogeys at 11 and 12, missing six-foot par putts on both holes as her lead shrank to five shots with six holes to play.
Lee birdied the par-3 13th to move within four shots but faded as Joh charged into contention with a run of four birdies in a row through the 15th hole to pull within three of Thompson, including a chip-in at 14.
Thompson had led after 54 holes earlier this year at Mobile, Alabama, and squandered the lead with a last-round nightmare to finish in a share of 19th.
However, Thompson made it clear that another collapse was not in the offing this time. After Joh had a short birdie miss at the par-3 16th, Thompson tapped-in for a birdie and sank another from 20 feet at the 17th hole.
After tapping in for par at 18, Thompson raised her hands in victory and her father Scott, who also serves as her caddie, embraced her.
The caddie daddy said he advised his daughter to play it safe coming down the stretch with a three-shot lead and three holes to play, but his daughter replied: “No, it’s on. I’m making some birdies coming in.”
Thompson successfully petitioned for a place in this year’s LPGA qualifying tournament. A victory would allow the prodigy to seek LPGA membership, but because she is under 18, the move would have to be approved by tour officials.
Additional Reporting by Staff Writer
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