NAPLES, Fla. - Sometimes you have to go back to the future in order to move forward. Lexi Thompson, who took a month off mid-season to recharge her batteries physically and emotionally, has recycled an old putter, drafted her brother to carry her bag this week and seems to be playing with a new joy. Midway through the CME Group Tour Championship the results are stunning for Lexi, who is looking to win an LPGA event for the sixth consecutive year.
On Friday, Thompson toured Tiburón Golf Club in 67 strokes to be at 12-under par 132 through 36 holes, three strokes better than first-round leader Amy Olson and Brittany Lincicome, who led most of the day before stumbling late. Nelly Korda and Marina Alex were at 136 with Charley Hull, Carlota Ciganda and Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras at 137.
“I’m definitely very comfortable with it,” Thompson said about the putter she gave a second chance. “These greens are so pure, you just have to commit to your lines and be good with your speed.” Her brother, Curtis, has helped her find those lines.
Thompson has been nothing short of sensational. She hit all 18 greens on Friday, has nailed 34 of 36 in the two rounds and finished her second round with three consecutive birdies. “I’m definitely having a lot of fun,” she said. “I know that whether I play good or bad, I have my family friends and fans out here.”
Lincicome was at 13-under par for the tournament through 14 holes on Friday and appeared to be in complete control. Then the wheels came off as she made double bogey on No. 15 and closed with bogeys on the last two holes for a 71. Lincicome, who kicked off the year with a win at the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, is trying to bookend 2018 with titles.
“One little brain fart of hitting it too hard, and then my putting speed was just horrendous coming in,” Lincicome said. “I'm like so mad I'm not even going to go putt. I just want to go home and take a shower and not remember the day. But under par, so not completely out of it.”
Among the big moves on Friday was the 67 by Alex, who picked up her first LPGA title earlier this year at the Cambia Portland Classic. Her solid second-round play put the Jersey Girl near the top of a leaderboard littered with American flags as Yanks held the top five spots.
“The win was huge,” said Alex. “It took a little bit of a monkey off my back and freed me up to play the golf I know I can play.” Alex, who was perfect with her driver on Friday, said: “Hitting the fairway is key to putting the ball in the right place on the green so you can score.”
Korda also moved up with a 67 of her own. “I played really solid,” she said. “The first three holes were into the wind and the start was difficult. I saved a really good par on No. 3 and that got me going. I’ve watched my sister play here so much I just kind of feel at home.”
In the Race for the CME Globe $1 million bonus, Ariya Jutanugarn, the leader in points coming into the Tour Championship, had to fight her way back from another slow start. After bogeys on the first three holes, the Rolex Player of the Year closed strong for a 71 to be at 141, good enough to reclaim the top spot, which she had lost to Nasa Hataoka on Thursday.
“It was pretty tough day today because it's really windy and it felt like the pin pretty hard,” Jutanugarn said. “I have three bogey in a row first three holes, but I fight with my back nine. I’m very proud of my back nine.”
Hataoka, who ballooned to 76 on Friday, is No. 4 in the chase for the million bucks. Brooke Henderson is now No. 2 with Minjee Lee in third place and Sung Hyun Park No. 5.
While Thompson can’t win the $1 million bonus, she can salvage what has been a bit of a rebuilding season after the emotional roller coaster that was 2017 during which challenges were thrown at her both on and off the golf course.
If she was looking for something during her hiatus, she seems to have found it. And while it’s good news for the LPGA to have one of its most marketable stars back playing good golf, it is even better news that Thompson seems to be not only playing well, but also enjoying the ride. That makes her a winner no matter the outcome on Sunday.