Tiffany Joh dropped a 9-birdie 65 on the field on moving day at the Navistar Classic to move to -8 for the week, but that bogey-double-bogey finish at the end of Friday's round looms even larger than before as 16-year-old Lexi Thompson continued to outshine most of the best players in the world of women's golf by going out in 31 to get to -15 and grinding out a closing 36 that despite a walkoff bogey (only her 3rd of the week) extended her lead to 5 heading into the final round.
Thompson withstood eagles from her playing partners Becky Morgan (on the 1st hole) and Stacy Lewis (on the 9th), making 4 birdies in a row to close out the front as Morgan fell off the pace with a pair of bogeys, then kept the pressure on the field on the back as she bombed drive after drive, hit green after green, made par after par (including a couple of pressure saves), and even sank another birdie putt to get to -16 for awhile. Surprisingly, Lewis, who had been having troubles sinking makeable birdie putts over her 1st 11 holes, was the one to crack, as she 5-putted the 12th for a double. By the time all 3 players ended moving day with bogeys, Thompson had extended her 2-shot lead after 36 holes over Morgan to 7 and Lewis to 8 through 54. Even Meena Lee, the only other player to join her at double digits under par, left a lot of birdie putts out there during her 4-birdie bogey-free run over her 1st 13 holes, then pressed over her final 5 holes, making 2 bogeys and a birdie to settle for a 69 that brought her to -10. Karen Stupples was one of the few players in the field to make a run at Thompson on the back, but even her bogey-free 32 only cut the deficit to 7 shots.
If those playing well this week fell that far off the pace, what of those just playing solidly? Thompson has a 10-shot lead on the likes of Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, Amanda Blumenherst, and Rookie of the Year leader Hee Kyung Seo, an 11-shot lead on Inbee Park, Maria Hjorth, Se Ri Pak, and world #2 Suzann Pettersen, and a 12-shot lead on Morgan Pressel, Amy Yang, Sandra Gal, and Hee-Won Han. And those struggling? World #1 Ya Ni Tseng is 15 down, defending champion Katherine Hull 13, Na Yeon Choi 14, Michelle Wie 17, and Sophie Gustafson 19. Thompson has missed only 4 greens in regulation all week, which means that her bad stretches have merely stalled her assault on par temporarily, while the rest of the field's have often set them back sharply. Even Jenny Shin, the model of consistency this week who's made only 2 bogeys in 54 holes, has hit 4 fewer greens than Thompson and made 13 fewer birdies. She's 11 back.
Randall Mell is dead right that anything can happen tomorrow--just look at Juli Inkster's hole-in-one on the 13th that sparked a bogey-free 32 as well as 4 birdies in a row and a 68 from her playing partner Pat Hurst for further evidence of that--but he's also dead right to start speculating about what happens if Thompson wins later today. After all, nobody is as locked in on the pace of the Senator's greens as Thompson--sure, Meena Lee has taken 11 fewer putts than her over 54 holes, but she's also hit 11 fewer greens--and it's probably too much to expect Stupples to replicate her famous Women's British Open start or Joh to back up her 65 with a low-60s round or Morgan to put together a career round. In fact, I put the odds of Thompson winning by more than she did over a much weaker field at the 1st stage of LPGA Q-School much higher than a disaster of epic proportions. I don't know that bangkokbobby would go that far, but when someone who knows the LPGA as well as he does expects Thompson to win, who am I to argue?
I also agree with Mell that it makes the most sense for Thompson to parlay a win into membership starting next season. Yes, she'd move into the top 50 on the money list with a win and hence would be eligible for the fall Asian swing, but she'd still be over $300K behind Seo on the money list and hundreds of points behind her on the ROY race with only 6 events left on the schedule. In Category 7 on the 2012 priority status list with a non-member win this week and a no-brainer age-waiver from Commissioner Whan, Thompson would be able to get into any event she wanted to next season and be in a much better position to put her name in the record books yet again by taking Rookie of the Year. Sure, there's something to be said for striking while the iron is hot, but there's even more to be said for enjoying the last months of her childhood away from the media spotlight and then getting ready to try to topple the Tseng Dynasty.
[Update 1 (2:56 am): Nice chance for Haru Nomura and Stephanie Kim to play with Ya Ni Tseng today. Too bad for them they're starting on the back!]