Lexi Thompson delivered star-power moments built for a stage like Las Vegas, and when she poured in a pair of long birdie putts Friday, she was on the cusp of history.
Thompson was 4 under with seven holes to play. In her sights was a chance to become the first woman in 78 years to make a 36-hole cut on the PGA Tour.
One poor swing, one mediocre chip and one missed putt at end left her on the outside of the cut at the Shriners Children’s Open, but no less proud of two days she won’t soon forget. She wanted to inspire kids to chase their dreams, and she did all of that at the TPC Summerlin.
“Playing with the guys – amazing feeling,” Thompson said after a 2-under 69. “Growing up with guys, I’ve always wanted to be out on a PGA Tour event and tee it up. But the biggest thing was seeing the kids out there outside the ropes and then meeting a few of the Shriners ambassadors. That was the most special.”
Her golf was a close second.
Thompson made five birdies in a 10-hole stretch, only to make two bogeys toward the end and missing a 6-foot birdie putt on her final hole. She had rounds of 73-69 to finish at even-par 142, missing the cut by three shots.
Lanto Griffin ran off five straight birdies for a 66, while Cameron Champ had a 67 in the morning wave. They shared the lead at 12-under 130. Henrik Norlander (64) was another shot behind, with Canadian Open champion Nick Taylor (67) and J.T. Poston (69) two behind.
“Very proud. I played really well today,” said Thompson, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and only missed four greens. “As the day went on, I tried to stay committed to my targets out there and to my swing thoughts and just enjoyed the whole experience.”
Her 69 was one short of the record by a female on the PGA Tour – Michelle Wie twice shot 68 in the Sony Open, once as a 14-year-old when she missed the cut by one shot.
“I knew I had to play my `A’ game,” Thompson said, adding that golf was only part of her being in Las Vegas. “Just coming into the week there was more of a message than just playing golf. To inspire the kids, that’s what I enjoy most.”
Thompson looked as though she might be around for all four days.
She finished the opening round, which had been suspended by darkness, by missing a 20-foot par putt on the 17th hole and making a tough par save on the 18th for a 73. Then, she began her second nine with a bogey on the 10th hole.
But the 28-year-old American came to life. She stuffed her approach to 4 feet on the 11th for a birdie. She was just off the green on the par-5 13th and took two putts for birdie. She drove the 296-yard 15th green for a two-putt birdie.
Thompson made the turn and promptly holed a birdie putt from just inside 25 feet for birdie, and then she poured in a birdie putt from just inside 30 feet.
She was 4 under for the round through 11 holes, and 2 under for the tournament.
“I knew once I had made a few birdies in a row that I would be somewhat close, but I knew the cut line would keep on going lower and lower with these guys, especially with not that much wind out there,” Thompson said.
“I tried to stay focused on my game and focused on my swing thoughts, picking small targets and staying 100 per cent committed.”
It all changed with one swing – and one smart decision. Her tee shot on the par-3 fifth was well to the right into the native area, the pin toward the right side of the green. Instead of taking a big risk by trying to hit out of the desert, she took a penalty drop for a clean lie 98 yards from the hole and hit wedge to 5 feet to escape with bogey.
Her hopes faded on the long par-3 eighth. Her 2-iron went just over the green, chipped weakly to 12 feet and missed the par putt. Needing a birdie on the par-5 ninth to have any chance, she chipped 6 feet by the cup and missed the putt.
The cut was at 1 under when she walked off the ninth green, but already was at 2 under after she had signed her card with ideal scoring conditions, it was bound to go lower.
Thompson was the seventh woman to play on the PGA Tour. Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the last to make a 36-hole cut in 1945.
This was never about winning. Thompson was 11 shots out of the lead after the first round. She finished in a tie for 85th in the 132-player field.
Even so, Thompson delivered a highlight in an otherwise rough year. She hasn’t won on the LPGA Tour in more than four years, and she was in jeopardy of losing her LPGA card until posting a pair of top 10s before arriving in Las Vegas.
Thompson said she would take the next few weeks off before returning to the LPGA in Florida for the conclusion of the season.