Monday, April 7, 2014
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Lexi Thompson took a lot of the drama out of the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. So did Michelle Wie.
The Sunday showdown the LPGA Tour hoped for in the first major championship of the year fizzled on the front nine when the aggressive Thompson overpowered the cautious Wie.
Thompson went after it from the start at Mission Hills, smashing driver on every hole she could. Wie reined in her considerable power, hitting conservative fairway-metal stingers and only occasionally letting loose with the driver.
When it was over, the 19-year-old Thompson cannonballed into Poppie's Pond in the traditional victory leap, and Wie was left to wonder about her safety-first strategy.
"I play this course very aggressively," Thompson said. "I didn't want to change the way I played the last few days because my driver won't get me in any trouble on a lot of the holes. So, laying back wouldn't really make sense.
"The greens were a little firmer, so even with a wedge in your hand you had to play for quite a bit of bounce out. I figured the closer I could get, even if I was in the rough, I could get it pretty close to the hole."
Thompson birdied four of the first nine holes to open a five-stroke lead and parred the final nine for a 4-under 68 and a three-stroke victory over Wie.
"This is what I've worked so hard for," Thompson said. "This was one of my goals coming into the year, to win a major. I've always seen myself winning a Kraft Nabisco. It's such a huge honor with all the history behind the tournament."
Wie birdied the final hole for a 71. She used her driver only four times, choosing to hit fairway woods on the other 10 driving holes — leaving her as much as 60 yards behind Thompson. When both hit 3-woods, Thompson also had the advantage.
"I stuck with my game plan and I think it was the right play," Wie said. "Who knows? In hindsight you would do something here or do something there, make a putt there. That's the way golf is. I just couldn't get anything going today."
Thompson finished at 14-under 274 for her fourth LPGA Tour victory. She opened with a 73, shot a tournament-best 64 on Friday and had a 69 on Saturday to tie for the lead with Wie at 10 under. The 6-foot Florida player had only one bogey — when she missed a 3-footer on the par-5 18th Saturday — in her last 55 holes.
"When I had a bad hole, I'd just fight right back," Thompson said. "Or if I hit a bad shot, just know that I can get it up-and-down or get it on the green."
Five years after she first played the event as a 14-year-old amateur, Thompson became the second-youngest major winner at 19 years, 1 month, 27 days. Morgan Pressel set the mark in 2007 at Mission Hills at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days.
"It has been an honor to play at this tournament so many years," Thompson said. "Only being 19 and to win it is the biggest honor ever."
Thompson has three victories in her last 12 starts, winning in Malaysia and Mexico late last season. She also won the 2011 Navistar LPGA at 16 to become the youngest winner in tour history, a mark broken by Lydia Ko in the 2012 Canadian Women's Open.
"I'm really looking forward to the future," Thompson said.
The 24-year-old Wie won the last of her two tour titles in 2010.
"I'm just proud of myself for how the week went," Wie said.
Thompson hammered a drive 40 yards past Wie's 3-wood on the par-4 opening hole and took the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt. Wie pulled even with a birdie on the par-5 second, then bogeyed the par-4 third — missing from 8 feet after leaving a chip short.
Thompson birdied Nos. 4 and 5. She hit a 3-wood 30 yards past Wie's 3-wood and made a 12-foot putt on the par-4 fourth, and holed a 5-footer on the par-3 fifth.
Thompson picked up another stroke on the par-3 eighth when Wie missed a 2-foot par putt, and pushed her lead to five with an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth.
Wie birdied the first two holes where she used her driver, hitting it past Thompson on Nos. 2 and 11 — both par 5s. Wie also hit driver on the par-4 13th, setting up a wedge that she hit to 4 feet. But she left the birdie putt short to remain four strokes back.
"I think it got to a point where I just tried too hard," Wie said.
Wie cut it to three on No. 14, holing a 12-footer, but dropped a stroke on the 17th.
"Lexi played amazing," Wie said. "She played probably the best I've ever seen her play. She hit the ball so well. ... It was just hard to catch up to her all day."
Stacy Lewis, the 2011 winner, had a 67 to finish third at 7 under.
DIVOTS: Minjee Lee, the 17-year-old Australian who tops the amateur ranking and is 110th overall, was the low amateur. She shot a 72 to tie for 24th at even par. Lee won the Australian professional tour's Victorian Open in February. ... Inbee Park, the 2013 champion, had a 75 to tie for 38th at 4 over.