NAPLES, Fla. — Lexi Thompson and Rickie Fowler raced up the leaderboard on Saturday at the Grant Thornton Invitational, carding a 4-under 68 in the foursomes format that was highlighted by a Thompson ace on the par-3 16th hole at Tiburón Golf Club.
The pair got off to a sluggish start, bogeying two of their first three holes of the day to drop back to 2-over. Thompson and Fowler then made five straight pars on holes four through eight before picking up their first birdie of the day on the par-3 9th hole to get back to 1-over with nine holes to play.
They found their footing on the back nine, parring 10 and recording three consecutive birdies on holes 11, 12 and 13 to move to 2-under overall. But Thompson and Fowler dropped another shot with a bogey on the par-5 14th, quickly erasing that mistake with a birdie on No. 15. The highlight of the week so far came on the next hole when Thompson aced the 170-yard, par-3, 16th hole with her 7 iron, dunking her tee shot to record the 11th hole-in-one of her life.
“I had 158 (to the) hole, a little breeze in. I mean, not much, it was pretty dead towards the end of the round. Ended up taking my 7-iron, which is my like 162 to 165 club, and backed up two club lengths from the tee marker and just tried to hit like a three-quarter hold,” said Thompson. “It was just dead at it. I was just hoping it was the right number and it ended up being a perfect number.
“(It ranks) definitely up there, probably one of my highest because I've only had about four in competition with a good amount of crowds, so there were a lot of people around that tee box. It was nice to high-five everybody and hear all the cheers. I can't wait to watch the video of it later. Hitting a golf shot or making a putt and committing to it and seeing the shot at hand and really pulling it off, it's always a great feeling.”
Thompson’s ace propelled her team to a 4-under 68, a round that moved her and Fowler from a tie for 10th to a tie for fourth at 16-under, four shots back of leaders Lydia Ko and Jason Day. While they were pleased to ultimately finish with a 68 considering their poor start to the round, Thompson and Fowler know that bogeys won’t fly tomorrow if they want to make up that four-stroke deficit and put themselves in contention to win, especially on the par 5s at Tiburón.
“We thought (the strategy) through a little bit coming into today, but we made two bogeys and ended up shooting 4-under, so we'll definitely take it with alternate shot,” said Thompson. “We both played solid golf. He hit some amazing iron shots and made some great putts, especially starting around 9. We knew that we had to put ourselves in the fairway for each other and give ourselves looks for alternate shot. Pars are good and birdies are great, so you just have to give us the opportunities.”
While the pair didn’t really have any rules for each other when it came to their alternate-shot strategy, Fowler told his teammate to play her own game as much as possible and not to stress too much about putting him in specific positions when it was her turn to hit. And that thought process seemed to work for the duo as they recorded the second-lowest round of the day on Saturday.
“I told Lexi out on the first, like don't worry about me, just play how you normally would,” said Fowler of his thinking when it comes to foursomes. “You try and just keep each other comfortable. Obviously, you don't want to put your partner in a funky situation, but it's bound to happen in alternate shot. It's one of my favorites just because it's one shot at a time literally. You don't hit the one before or after.
“It's a grind because you're trying to put her in the best position and she's trying to do the same for me. But I hit a couple of putts by that she had to clean up for me. Just the way it goes.”
With the third and final format – a modified four-ball – on deck on Sunday for the final round at the Grant Thornton Invitational, Thompson and Fowler don’t feel like they’ll have too much trouble playing each other’s golf balls after seeing how things worked in foursomes on Saturday. While Thompson plays the Bridgestone TOUR B RX ball and Fowler competes with the TP5x pix from Taylormade, the pair feel like the balls are a lot alike, something that may not be the case for all of the 16 two-person teams in the field.
“We haven't played each other's ball too much, but they're pretty similar, so going into the rounds we weren't worried about that factor, which is nice,” said Thompson. “I just try to get them in the fairway. He's hitting his irons amazing, and he rolled some really great putts out there.”
Couple that fact with the momentum the pair generated on Saturday at Tiburón Golf Club, and Thompson and Fowler could threaten tomorrow coming down the stretch as they work to win the inaugural edition of the Grant Thornton Invitational.