Lexi Thompson just made the upcoming 2012 LPGA Tour season that much more tantalizing. With her four-shot win over Lee-Ann Pace at the Dubai Ladies Masters on Saturday, the 16-year-old became the second-youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour and the youngest professional ever to hoist an LET trophy.
More to the point for the struggling U.S. tour, Thompson’s second professional victory has golf fans eagerly awaiting the tour rookie’s jousts with the world’s hottest golfer, Yani Tseng.
Thompson, who seems to make history each time she steps on a golf course, came back from a bogey on the 17th hole to finish her triumph at Emirates Golf Club with a birdie on the 515-yard, par-5 18th — a hole she owned each day of the four-day contest. Indeed, the only other lapse during a seven-birdie final round was a bogey on the par-3 seventh.
After chipping in for birdie on the par-4 ninth, Thompson clubbed four more on the back nine. She closed out her week’s work with a 5-under 67 and a 15-under (273) scorecard for the week.
“It feels amazing,” Thompson told CBSSports.com later. “I’m just honored they invited me back and I’m just grateful to be here. I’ve been working on my game really hard and it has paid off. I’m just going to continue working hard and just try to improve every tournament.”
With Tseng, who captured almost every honor a golfer can earn during her spectacular 2011 season, promising to raise her game to another level, the two golfers could put on quite the show next year.
“I wish I could win more than this year,” Tseng told reporters during the LPGA’s season-ending CME Titleholders event. “[I will set] that goal and try to play my best and try to win as more tournaments as I can.”
Tseng’s opponents must have flinched when the 2011 money winner and repeat Player of the Year said she still had a lot to learn. “I have so many things I can work on in the off-season to…try to win tournaments,” Tseng said. “I just feel like really improve a lot.”
Tseng’s intimidation factor may not have reached the level of Tiger Woods’ in his heyday, but playing partners fell by the wayside 12 times this year to make way for the world’s hottest golfer. It should be interesting to see how the big-hitting teen fares in head-to-head matches with the tour’s longest driver.
Thompson, for her part, became the youngest golfer ever to win an LPGA Tour event in September and then rewrote the LET history books as well. While Amy Yang, at 16 years 192 days in 2006, was the the youngest golfer ever to win an LET event, the South Korean was an amateur.
Thompson outpaced South African Ashleigh Simon for youngest pro to win on the Euro Tour. Simon was 18 years and 37 days when she won the 2007 Catalonia Ladies Masters, according to CBSSports.com.
“This is really exciting and I am very happy,” Thompson told AFP. “I was hoping to get to 15-under par for the tournament by the end of the day, and I managed to do exactly that.”
Thompson brushed off the run that Pace made. While Thompson birdied the second and third, Pace posted a birdie and an eagle on the same holes and evened the score with another birdie on No. 6. Thompson, however, pulled away with her chip-in on the ninth.
“Even when Lee-Anne made those birdies and eagle, I was not too bothered because I was playing well myself. I knew I could make birdies coming in and stay in contention,” said Thompson, who will make her debut as an LPGA member early next year. “But I never thought it was over ‘til I had the five-shot lead with four holes to play.”
Meanwhile, Tseng is on a break after a dominating season in which she captured two major championships, and became the youngest golfer — woman or man — to win five majors. If you’re a golf fan, the anticipated match-ups between the world’s No. 1 and the Florida wunderkind can’t come soon enough.
The established and emerging stars will likely meet for the first time as tour peers in the Women’s Australian Open in February. Get your popcorn ready.