May 2nd 2011
MOBILE, Ala. — Alexis Thompson was only 3 during Maria Hjorth’s rookie year on the LPGA Tour.
On Sunday, experience won over youthful talent.
Hjorth rallied to win the Avnet LPGA Classic for her fifth tour title, while Thompson’s bid to become the youngest winner crumbled amid errant, water-logged shots.
Hjorth shot her second straight 5-under 67 to finish at 10-under 278, two strokes ahead of Song-Hee Kim (71) on The Crossings course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove complex.
The 16-year-old Thompson, tied for the lead with Kim entering the round, had a 78 to drop into a tie for 19th at 1 under. Thompson opened and closed with bogeys and had double bogeys after her ball went into the water on Nos. 14 and 15.
Na Yeon Choi (69) and Suzann Pettersen (70) finished three strokes back.
Thompson waved in acknowledgment of the gallery’s loud applause heading to the final hole, but walked off with an anguished expression on her face. Her bid for history had taken a sour turn, but she said nerves weren’t to blame.
“I just didn’t hit it very solid,” the Coral Springs, Fla., resident said. “My driver wasn’t that bad but my irons weren’t good. I just wasn’t trusting anything. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t even that nervous surprisingly.
“It definitely was (a learning experience). I’m only 16, so I’m just learning every tournament.”
The veteran Hjorth’s husband, Shaun McBride — who normally caddies on the PGA Tour — handled her bag. She had four birdies of her six birdies on holes Nos. 3-7 to quickly move into the lead. Hjorth also won the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in 2010, and on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail event a few hours north in Prattville in 2007.
“I knew I just had to be patient,” Hjorth said. “Obviously my goal going in I was trying to get double digits (under par), which is pretty hard to do. I didn’t think it was going to be enough for a win, but obviously it was.”
The 37-year-old Swede pocketed $195,000 for the victory, and had McBride to celebrate with.
“He caddied for me full-time two years ago before we had our daughter (Emily, in 2009),” Hjorth said. “We lost in the playoff at McDonald’s LPGA Championship, so it was great to be able to have a win together. To have just an off week like this and to be able to pull it off is really good.”
She watched as Kim’s approach shot on No. 18 went into the bunker, sealing the win. Kim had an eagle on the par-15 16th hole to move to 8 under.
“I knew she was 10 under through like 14 but I didn’t look at the scoreboard after I had an eagle,” Kim said. “I was just kind of playing my game.”
It made for a slightly delayed celebration for Hjorth because, as she said, “Miracles happen.”
“She could have holed out her shot,” Hjorth said. “It wasn’t until she hit her second shot that I knew I was going to win the tournament.”
Thompson, meanwhile, should have more chances to become the LPGA’s youngest winner. As Hjorth joked, “I could have just as well been a mum” to the teenager.
She still has nearly two years to top Marlene Hagge, who was 18 years, 14 days when she won the 18-hole Sarasota Open. Hagge won two 18-hole events at 18. Paula Creamer is the youngest winner of a multi-round event, winning the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 years, 9 months, 17 days.
Hjorth’s advice for Thompson: Focus on the three strong days not the one rough one.
“I just hope that she learns things from it,” Hjorth said. “That’s the important thing. She has to take all the positive that she’s achieved this week. She was up there and had a chance to win the tournament.
“She’s going to be a great player and have a lot of wins and a lot of success.”
Thompson promptly lost her share of the lead on the first hole. Her approach shot landed downhill in the rough to the left of the green to set up a bogey, and she had another one two holes later.
Any hopes of a comeback effectively ended on holes No. 13 and 14, when she had to take drops.
First she pushed a short birdie putt to the right and then her tee shot failed to clear the water.
Thompson clasped hands over her head in frustration after watching the ball plunk into the water again on her approach shot on the next hole.
Pettersen had birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 and just missed a third on the next hole — a par 5 — when her putt lipped out, leaving her needing Hjorth to falter.
“It’s killed me in the past, 16,” Pettersen said. “It’s such an obvious birdie hole when you hit it in the fairway. Par just feels like a bogey on that hole.”