Thursday's golf: Lexi Thomson shoots 65, leads LPGA Tour's season finale

Associated Press

Naples, Fla. — With brother Curtis back at her side at Tiburon Golf Club, Lexi Thompson shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the LPGA Tour’s CME Group Tour Championship.

Curtis, a Korn Ferry Tour player, also caddied for his sister in 2018 when she won the season-ending event.

Lexi Thompson

“If we’re both home we are always playing golf together and joking around,” Thompson said. “It’s great to have him out here. I really appreciate him helping me out and keeping me loose out there. Whether I play good or bad, he always keeps a smile on my face.”

On Thursday after early morning rain, Thompson birdied five of the first seven holes. She played the next nine holes in even par with a birdie and a bogey, then birdied the final two holes. The 11-time LPGA Tour had her lowest score of the year a week after missing the cut in Houston in the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I was just overall very happy with how I committed to my shots,” Thompson said. “That’s what I’ve really been working on. I’ve been working so hard on my game in general trying to improve on it, and it’s been kind of an up and down roller coaster with an unfortunate week last week.”

Nanna Koerstz Madsen of Denmark was a stroke back after a bogey-free round.

“I was a little shaky on my driver going into the event, and putting as well actually. So now it is always nice to start off with a good round,” Koerstz Madsen said. “I don’t have any expectations. I just want to go out and play and see if I can do good mentally.”

Defending champion Sei Young Kim was at 67 with Caroline Masson and Megan Khang.

Masson holed a 9-iron approach for eagle on the par-4 13th.

“I had a pretty good number for a 9-iron, a little downwind, and kind of hit the shot I wanted,” Masson said. “It pitched on top and just released a little bit. I kind of wasn’t really looking anymore because I thought it was good, but I didn’t realize it would go in.”

Tiburon was the site of the PGA Tour’s QBE Shootout last week. In a normal year, the CME Group Tour Championship is held before Thanksgiving.

“I think pretty similar,” Kim said. “Greens are softer. I think last night we got a little bit of rain, the greens so feel like little softer than yesterday. But, yeah, everything very similar.”

The $1.1 million winner’s prize, down from $1.5 million last year, is still the richest in women’s golf.

Top-ranked Jin Young Ko was at 68 with Minjee Lee, Maria Fassi, Anna Nordqvist, Carlota Ciganda and 2014 champion Cristie Kerr.

After spending most of the year in South Korea, Ko tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open to qualify for the event. She had a double bogey on the par-4 third, her 12th hole of the day.

Kerr dislocated three ribs in a golf cart accident before the start of Volunteers of America Classic two weeks ago, and fought through pain to tie for 23rd in Houston.

“I feel a little bit better today, but I just thought it was really important to get through last week,” Kerr said. “There were points where I didn’t think that I was going to be able to, but I guess when they say there is a will there is a way.”

Race to CME Globe leader Inbee Park and second-place Danielle Kang each shot 71, playing alongside Kim. Kang led the points race since back-to-back wins in Ohio until Park took over the lead last week.

►From father to son, Tiger Woods looking only for enjoyment: Tiger Woods and his 11-year-old son were on the practice range together Thursday at the PNC Championship, and social media was blazing with how good Charlie’s swing looked, right down to the club twirl.

What got the attention of Justin Thomas was competitive chirping.

He recalled a putting contest they had two years ago in Woods’ backyard. Thomas said it was one of the few weeks he occupied the No. 1 world ranking.

“Charlie was leading going into the last hole,” Thomas said. “Charlie is mouthing off, ‘Here I am a 9-year-old beating the No. 1 player in the world and supposedly the best player of all time.’ He three-putted and I made it. Shut him up pretty quick.”

The next competition will be on national TV.

Woods and his son are among 20 teams in Orlando, Florida, for the PNC Championship that starts Saturday, a 36-hole event known for many years as the Father-Son Challenge. Moving with the times, players who won a major or The Players Championship can have sons, daughters and even fathers as their partners.

Woods is playing for the first time, turning a cozy December gathering into must-see TV.

Is the son too young for so much attention? It’s all relative considering Woods was 2 when he made his TV debut on “The Mike Douglas Show.”

“When I was 11, it was a totally different world,” Woods said. “I was playing a lot of tournaments, but I wasn’t in front of the media like this. It was so different. He’s been handling this and playing and being a part of golf. And this is part of golf.”

This is not about training the next Tiger. Stories abound of the late Earl Woods placing his toddler son in a high chair, mesmerized watching his father swing a club. Earl Woods made his son ask to play golf, and only if his homework was finished. There were countless teaching moments along the way.

Woods only remembers those days as time spent with his father – just like now.

“It’s so much fun for me to see him enjoying the game,” Woods said after a pro-am round that featured one par 3 where his son hit it to 3 feet and Woods left it some 40 feet away. “That’s the whole idea. Enjoy hitting shots and creating those shots. It’s so cool for me to see him enjoy the sport.”

The 11-year-old son already became somewhat of a video sensation last year when he was playing a junior event. The father of another player noticed Woods on the range and took video, and in the background was young Charlie with a sweet swing reminiscent of a tour player with 82 wins and 15 majors.

Woods said if there is any instruction, a big part comes from Mike Thomas, the father of Justin Thomas and a longtime club professional in Kentucky whose specialty is working with juniors.

“Mike has been very impactful in terms of him enjoying the sport,” Woods said.

That’s the word – enjoy – Woods kept repeating.

It’s rare in golf for sons to follow their fathers. Jack Nicklaus’ oldest of four sons, Jackie, won the prestigious North & South Amateur but never had a PGA Tour card. His third son, Gary, played on tour and once lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson at the former BellSouth Classic in Atlanta.

Jay and Bill Haas and Craig and Kevin Stadler are among father-son duos with PGA Tour titles.

Then again, this isn’t about the tour or even winning.

“My dad never pushed me to play golf or run cross-country,” Woods said. “Whatever Charlie decides to do, as I said, as long as he enjoys it. And he’s doing that.”

For Charlie, it’s a chance for payback. He and his father are paired the opening round with Mike and Justin Thomas. The boy’s ability to chirp has been brought up a few times in recent weeks. Justin Thomas wants to see the 11-year-old Woods play well and soak up the moment.

“Who wouldn’t want to be like your dad if your dad is Tiger Woods?” Thomas said. “You all will get entertainment watching him twirl the club. As much joking as I’ve made, I’ll be his second-biggest supporter behind Tiger.”