RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lexi Thompson hit just half her fairways in Thursday’s start of the ANA Inspiration.
She missed seven greens.
Forget those numbers.
She opened with a 69. That’s the number that counts. A round of 3-under par gave her a share of the lead through the morning wave.
Welcome back to Lexi’s playground, where bomb and gouge is her favorite game.
Yes, this setup is tougher than any in recent memory at the year’s first major. The fairways are narrower, the rough is thicker and the greens are firmer, making birdies harder to come by.
It didn’t seem to matter.
Thompson kept playing her favorite game here, lashing drivers with impunity while making up for mistakes with a hot putter.
The hot putter might be the real key to where this week ends up for the 10-time LPGA winner
“I made some great putts, which is always a big confidence booster for me,” Thompson said. “I think, overall, l could have hit it better, but still not complaining.”
Thompson, 24, said she relishes the drive through the mountains to get here after playing the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif.
“I just love this golf course,” Thompson said at week’s start. “I get to hit my driver everywhere. It’s just so much fun to be here this week.”
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Thompson loves this place so much, she won’t let that heartbreaking loss here two years ago mar those memories.
As a 19-year-old in 2014, Thompson faced down Michelle Wie in a head-to-head final-round duel to capture her first major victory. They started Sunday tied for the lead, but that didn’t last long. Thompson hammered her driver at almost every opportunity, shortening the course with an ultra-aggressive style, while Wie played more tactically, navigating fairways with 3-woods.
Thompson came back and finished seventh in 2015, fifth in 2016 and second in 2017, when she was hit with that controversial four-shot penalty in the final round but still nearly won.
With this sterner setup, the question at week’s start was whether bomb and gouge would still work.
So far, so good for Thompson, who said she did not alter her aggressive strategy with the more penal rough.
“I actually probably hit more drivers this year than other years,” Thompson said. “It’s just tighter so you just have to commit to your lines a little bit more and still play aggressively, because they did move a few tees back.
“At the same time, if you miss the fairway, you want the shorter shot into the hole.”
Thompson took just 26 putts.
“It was a little bit of an up-and-down day,” Thompson said. “I hit some great shots and then hit some poor ones off the tee . . . I should have hit a lot more fairways.
“So I’m very happy with the way I just stayed strong the whole day and came out with 3 under.”
Thompson closed with back-to-back birdies. She made a lot of big putts on the back nine, not all of them for birdies.
“I made a lot of clutch putts on the back nine to save par,” she said.
And that put her in early position to make a run at winning her second major.