RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Perhaps it was too much to expect magic from both players in the 1:30 p.m. group. It was a matter of feast or famine for Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie in the day’s most anticipated pairing at the ANA Inspiration.
Wie got off to a dizzyingly poor start (literally), making doubles on two of her first six holes. Thompson, playing under an intense microscope at a venue that has caused tremendous joy and pain, posted her best opening round in this event, a 4-under 68. She trails Swede Pernilla Lindberg by three strokes after her bogey-free 65.
“I don’t know if I would say it’s a relief,” said Thompson. “I was just really looking forward to just playing this week. I love coming here, and the course can’t be in any better shape. Probably the best I’ve seen it, and the greens are perfect.”
Thompson’s strong showing included a 348-yard drive on the third hole. She said earlier in the week that she had extra oomph behind her, and the added motivation appeared to do her good. At the Kia Classic, Thompson hit driver off the tee only twice per round. This week she can let it fly.
“I changed to the Cobra F8 at the beginning of the year,” she said. “I feel very comfortable with it, and this golf course definitely sets up for my game off the tee. I get to just aim up the right and fire away.”
One par save in particular impressed. After hitting it left off the tee into trouble on the par-4 seventh, Thompson chipped out and hit a 9-iron to 18 feet and then drained the par putt. A closing bogey on the par-5 ninth tainted an otherwise strong showing under immense pressure.
It was a warm, calm day in the desert that saw plenty of red numbers. Beatriz Recari and Ayako Uehara are two shots behind Lindberg, who came close to her first title at last year’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Lindberg, ranked 95th in the world, took 25 putts in her opening round. She has finished T-21 or better in her last three starts at the ANA.
Jessica Korda continued her torrid start to the season, opening up the day with four consecutive birdies. She’s in a share of fourth with amateur Albane Valenzuela and Ha Na Jang. Several major champions are lurking three back, including In Gee Chun, Cristie Kerr and Sung Hyun Park.
Wie, a winner this year in Singapore, hit only three fairways and six greens in her opening 40 (on the back nine). She closed with a 75, joking that she had altitude sickness due to her height.
“I had the mad spins out there, that was for one,” said Wie. “I just got really dizzy. I don’t know why or how. It was interesting. I saw five balls out there on the front nine. Like the one that I whiffed in the rough I think that I hit the wrong one.”
Thompson credited the fans for lifting her through the back nine on Sunday at last year’s ANA. She noticed two little girls who followed her every day last year watching again on Thursday.
“They were here today giving me high-fives on every hole,” said Thompson. “It just put a smile on my face.”