Thompson becomes youngest LPGA winner at 16

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.

Updated: September 19, 2011 12:22 IST
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Prattville, Alabama: 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 $1.3 million event to defeat compatriot Tiffany Joh by five shots and American Angela Stanford by six.

"I knew I was going for the record but I was focusing on the golf course and doing my best," Thompson said. "I was nervous on the first tee but I had a lot of fun out here."

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 multi-round event until Thompson's triumph.

Thompson, who turned pro in June of 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.

"She got on a roll, chipped in, got a birdie -- she could have birdied all the way in," Thompson said. "I was just focusing on my own game."

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.

But 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.

"That was a big shot," Thompson said. "I knew I was playing pretty good lately. I had a few struggle ones but I came through here. I was just trying to make good shots and smart plays.

"Coming up the 18th it was like all the pressure was let off. I could wave at the fans."

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 feeling is unbelievable. I wanted to cry but I held back. It's awesome," Scott Thompson said. "I couldn't be more proud. We have been working really hard. The last month she has been hitting the ball pretty well.

"This is the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever done. It's harder on me than her. I just give her the number."

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.

Joh said: "If I can say I was a speed bump on her run to history that was good enough for me."

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