MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Fans greeted Alexis Thompson with hearty applause as she walked to the final green, though it was hardly the ending the teenager coveted.
The 16-year-old faltered on Sunday at the Avnet LPGA Classic in her bid to become the tour’s youngest winner. The veteran Maria Hjorth shot her second straight 67 to finish at 10-under 278, two strokes ahead of Song-Hee Kim (71) on The Crossings course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove complex.
And when Thompson walked to the scorer’s table, her water-logged final round complete, it was with an expression of anguish not jubilation.
Tied for the lead with Kim entering the round, she had a 78 to drop into a tie for 19th at 1 under. Thompson opened and closed with bogeys and had double bogeys after her ball went into the water on Nos. 14 and 15.
Sour ending aside, Hjorth thinks Thompson had more to celebrate than regret.
“I just hope that she learns things from it,” Hjorth said. “That’s the important thing. She has to take all the positive that she’s achieved this week. She was up there and had a chance to win the tournament.
“She’s going to be a great player and have a lot of wins and a lot of success.”
Thompson said nerves weren’t to blame for her ending struggles.
“I just didn’t hit it very solid,” the Coral Springs, Fla., resident said. “My driver wasn’t that bad but my irons weren’t good. I just wasn’t trusting anything. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t even that nervous surprisingly.
“It definitely was (a learning experience). I’m only 16, so I’m just learning every tournament.”
Na Yeon Choi (69) and Suzann Pettersen (70) finished three strokes back.
Hjorth’s husband, Shaun McBride – who normally caddies on the PGA Tour – handled her bag. She had four of her six birdies on holes Nos. 3-7 to quickly move into the lead. Hjorth also won the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship last year, and on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail event a few hours north in Prattville in 2007.
“I knew I just had to be patient,” Hjorth said. “Obviously my goal going in I was trying to get double digits (under par), which is pretty hard to do. I didn’t think it was going to be enough for a win, but obviously it was.”
The 37-year-old Swede pocketed $195,000 for the victory, and had McBride to celebrate with.
“He caddied for me full-time two years ago before we had our daughter (Emily, in 2009),” said Hjorth, who donated $20,000 of her winnings to the American Red Cross tornado relief efforts in Alabama. “We lost in the playoff at McDonald’s LPGA Championship, so it was great to be able to have a win together. To have just an off week like this and to be able to pull it off is really good.”
She watched as Kim’s approach shot on No. 18 went into the bunker, sealing the win. Kim had an eagle on the par-15 16th hole to move to 8 under.
“I knew she was 10 under through like 14 but I didn’t look at the scoreboard after I had an eagle,” Kim said. “I was just kind of playing my game.”
It made for a slightly delayed celebration for Hjorth because, as she said, “Miracles happen.”
“She could have holed out her shot,” Hjorth said. “It wasn’t until she hit her second shot that I knew I was going to win the tournament.”
Thompson, meanwhile, should have more chances to become the LPGA’s youngest winner. As Hjorth joked, “I could have just as well been a mum” to the teenager.
Thompson still has nearly two years to top Marlene Hagge, who was 18 years, 14 days when she won the 18-hole Sarasota Open. Hagge won two 18-hole events at 18. Paula Creamer is the youngest winner of a multi-round event, winning the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 years, 9 months, 17 days.
Thompson had bogeys on two of the first three holes, but any hopes of salvaging the round ended on holes No. 13 and 14, when she had to take drops.
First she pushed a short birdie putt to the right and then her tee shot failed to clear the water.
Thompson clasped hands over her head in frustration after watching the ball plunk into the water again on her approach shot on the next hole.
It was that kind of day.