NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson cradled her new Havapoo puppy, Leo, while fielding questions about a third consecutive round in the 60s. The cuddly Leo looked at ease in front of the cameras, staying remarkably calm and quiet while Thompson talked about trying to keep it light with brother Curtis on the bag.
Leo should’ve been on the scene a year ago at the CME Group Tour Championship when Thompson missed a two-foot par putt on the 72nd hole that would’ve given her the chance at a clean sweep at Tiburon, including LPGA Player of the Year honors and a No. 1 ranking.
Thompson left Naples last year with the CME Race to the Globe $1 million bonus check and an LPGA Hall of Fame point for clinching the Vare Trophy, but it was still a crushing end to a trying season.
The road back to the CME has been anything but smooth for Thompson, who took time off the from the LPGA midseason and only recently began opening up about how much she has struggled emotionally.
“I’ve been working on myself a lot with just going to therapists or just trying to figure myself out off the golf course,” said Thompson, “because I’m not just the golfer Lexi. That’s what I want people to know, and not expect so much out of me.”
Thompson’s victory streak on the LPGA dates back to 2013. Winless so far in 2018, the 23-year-old has won at least once for the past five seasons and has one round left to try and keep that record intact.
America’s top-ranked player looks awfully strong so far. Through 54 holes at Tiburon, Thompson has missed a total of three greens and four fairways. Her third-round 68 included her first bogey of the tournament. A nine-time winner on the LPGA, Thompson holds a three-stroke lead over Nelly Korda, who won for the first time three weeks ago in Taiwan.
“Singapore kind of taught me a lot, just coming up one short,” said Korda, who lost to Michelle Wie on the 72nd hole at the HSBC Women’s Champions in March. “Took me a while to kind of bounce back from that.”
Now, with her confidence riding high, Korda has the chance to not only claim her second title, but also win a season-long bet with big sister Jessica over who makes the most money. Jessica ranked 16th on the money list heading into the final event with $846,179, a mere $2,202 ahead of Nelly, who is 17th.
At the CME, Jessica sits in a share of 16th at 5 under while Nelly is solo second at 13 under.
The LPGA’s sister acts have provided compelling storylines this season. And with Ariya Jutanugarn on the verge of winning the Vare Trophy and the CME $1 million bonus for a second time and Nelly in contention, the talented foursome are hardly finished yet.
It has been another season of storybook, Hollywood-style endings on the LPGA, and Thompson might provide a compelling final act.
Though winless thus far, the fact that she has opened the door, if only a little, to reveal some of what’s going on inside her head and her heart is meaningful to those who have followed along on this journey from prodigy to world-beater.
There has been a genuine and heartfelt question from many on tour this year: Is Lexi OK?
“I’m doing a lot better,” she said earlier in the week. “Just being home has made a huge difference. Just being around my family and friends makes a tremendous difference.”
That’s what this week is about for Thompson. It’s about the close circle of supporters who come out to this event every year. It’s about the softest ball of fur waiting to shower her with kisses after the round. It’s about personal growth.
Maybe a little redemption too.