Lovely Lexi has the look of a cham­pion

The Racing Paper - - Golf - by Mitchell Platts

LEXI Thomp­son is a walk­ing bill­board for the LPGA Tour – nat­u­rally gifted, charm­ing and charis­matic – and after claim­ing her tenth ti­tle only two weeks ago she can fur­ther ad­ver­tise a won­der­ful re­cov­ery from ad­ver­sity by com­plet­ing an un­prece­dented dou­ble.

The 23-year-old Amer­i­can, pop­u­lar with the fans for her in­spi­ra­tional play and fair­way in­ter­ac­tion, brought the cur­tain down on the 2018 LPGA sea­son by cap­tur­ing the CME Group Tour Cham­pi­onship at Tiburon Golf Club where 12 months ear­lier a missed two foot putt on the last green cost her the ti­tle.

Now she is swiftly re­turn­ing to Tiburon – 100 miles from her home in Co­ral Springs – to part­ner Tony Finau in the QBE Shootout, also played on the Greg Nor­man-de­signed 7,382-yards (par 72) Gold Course.

Thomp­son’s trou­ble­some year was trig­gered in 2017 by her be­ing pe­nalised four shots for re­plac­ing her ball in­cor­rectly in the ANA In­vi­ta­tional, cost­ing her a clear-cut win in the Ma­jor Cham­pi­onship she won in 2014.

She fol­lowed on by miss­ing that tid­dler in the CME Group Tour Cham­pi­onship, then suf­fer­ing a wrist in­jury which ruled her out for a month be­fore feel­ing obliged to take time out, miss­ing sev­eral im­por­tant events, to visit a ther­a­pist, as she strug­gled through a sum­mer of stress ex­ac­er­bated by her mother bat­tling se­ri­ous ill­ness.

“This year was an eye­opener,” she said. “It all kind of hit me and got me re­ally down.

“I needed time off to be with my fam­ily, to fig­ure out things that made me happy off the course. It’s been a long year; the ups and downs and things I’ve been deal­ing with.

“They all kind of hit me this year. So to be able to end the year like this and keep on fight­ing has meant the world to me.

“It shows any­thing is pos­si­ble – you have to fight through what­ever you’re go­ing through.”

Thomp­son, who sky­dived onto the first tee at one tour­na­ment to sup­port the mil­i­tary, be­came, aged 12, the youngest golfer to qual­ify for the US Women’s Open and, fol­low­ing her first win of this year, she is now link­ing again with Ry­der Cup man Finau in the oth­er­wise all-men QBE Shootout.

The part­ner­ship fin­ished tied fourth 12 months ago – they shot 63-66-66 in the 54-hole event com­pris­ing one round each of scram­ble, green­somes and four­somes – and Finau de­clared:

“Lexi just has the It fac­tor. She’s one of those tal­ents that has the whole pack­age – im­pres­sive as a player and as a per­son.”

Finau has en­joyed an ex­cel­lent year, which in­cluded mak­ing his Ry­der Cup de­but, but los­ing a re­cent play-off for the WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons means he is still with­out a win since 2016 so he will be su­per-keen to lift this ti­tle.

Amer­i­cans Sean O’Hair and Steve Stricker are the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, fol­low­ing their two-shot win ahead of Ire­land’s Shane Lowry and Graeme McDow­ell and McDow­ell re­turns with a sixth dif­fer­ent part­ner – he was also se­cond with Dar­ren Clarke in 2010 – as he teams-up with Ar­gentina’s Emil­iano Grillo.

But two other all-Amer­i­can part­ner­ships – Cameron Champ with Kevin Kis­ner and Bryson DeCham­beau with Kevin Na – look the main dan­gers to Finau and Thomp­son.

Champ, 23, fol­lowed his maiden win in the San­der­son Farms Cham­pi­onship with two top tens in his lat­est two events and now leads the PGA Tour driv­ing dis­tance cat­e­gory with 328.2 yards with the help of a club­head speed of 130.2 mph – five mph more than the next fastest player.

DeCham­beau, 25, has won four PGA Tour ti­tles in five re­mark­able months – two of those were in FedExCup play-off events – and, like Champ, should find the Greg Nor­man de­sign to his lik­ing for the 30th edi­tion of the tour­na­ment.

Star pair: Lexi Thomp­son In­set: Tony Finau

Dan­ger men: Cameron Champ and Kevin Kis­ner

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