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Saturday, March 31, 2012
Lexi Thompson's charge stirs crowd

By Mick Elliott

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lexi Thompson, the 17-year-old LPGA rookie who last year became the youngest winner in women's tour history, birdied four of her opening five holes Saturday in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She played onward to post an attention-grabbing 68, going 4 under and jumping from a tie for 33rd into a tie for 12th going into Sunday's final round. Thompson was steady and relentless, bombing drives and stiffing wedges. At one time she reached 6 under, only two shots back of Yani Tseng before she had teed off.

Although an 18th-hole bogey softened some of the impact, Thompson's performance was like a warning siren announcing the coming arrival of a force of nature.

Now, if she can just get that prom date.

With the May 18 social event of a lifetime starting to near, it seems no boys have worked up enough courage to call with an invitation.

"I've been really focused on my golf right now, and I guess they might be afraid to ask with me in tournaments and stuff," Thompson said with a giggle.

Or it could be that her 5-foot-11 muscular frame, maturity level and worldwide fame gets in the way like a father cleaning his shotgun. So, guys, her people are going to get in touch with your people.

Thompson's two major sponsors, Puma and Red Bull, have decided to help. In something of a Bachelorette plays the Member-Guest, Thompson said her fans are going to help pick a small group of potential suitors, and then she will make a final call.

"I'm thinking the minimum requirement is probably 6-feet-2," joked Judy Thompson, as she walked Mission Hills Country Club Saturday with her daughter's gallery.

A full tank of self confidence might also come in handy.

"They are just making a fun way to get me to the prom," Thompson said. "It came up as a fun idea. I'm happy they want to do it.

"It's not a promotion & it's just a way for me to have the most fun night. I'm really not sure how it's going to work. I'm letting them work it out. I'll just show up and pick a guy."

On Saturday, she just picked up speed.

Thompson started the day with three straight birdies. She added two more on the fourth and ninth holes to make the turn with a 5-under 31. When another short putt dropped on the par-5 11th to take her to 6 under on the day, a buzz rolled through the golf course.

"I was thinking I was definitely shooting a low score, but I was trying not to get ahead of myself," she said. "You have to take one shot at a time, especially at a major, so you just have to focus and see where it goes."

From that point, it was not so much where things went as what came in -- namely, steady afternoon winds of 25-30 mph that at times gusted to 40.

"When the wind came up, you have to take more club and just swing easy because you can't swing out of control and expect good ball flight shots and be close, " she said. "The way the wind was, 30-, 20-footers aren't bad. You get away with pars and be happy with it."

Thompson gave two strokes back with bogeys coming down the stretch. Still, she will go into Sunday's final round positioned for her best finish of the season.

In four previous events, a tie for 14th in Thailand is Thompson's only top-20 finish, but she has not missed a cut.

"She makes such great contact," said Morgan Pressel, who was paired with Thompson for the first two rounds. "She just swings at it. She's not afraid of where it's going to end up."

While that's the same game Thompson has shown since qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open at age 12, there is a new look on her bag.

Father, Scott, who had carried her bag for almost two years, decided a few weeks ago to hand it off.

Greg Johnston, a veteran who caddied for Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Lorena Ochoa and also for Michelle Wie, now has the job.

"It's definitely a change, looking over and seeing my dad outside the ropes," Thompson said. "But it's going well with Greg. I really like him, and I know my dad's still there supporting me."

Scott said the timing was right to make the change.

"I'd been out here for 1 1/2 years and had seen all the caddies,'' Scott said. "Some of them I liked and some I didn't. One who I liked opened up.

"Lexi is on her way. Now I want to go out and see if I can help one of my boys."

That would be oldest son, Nicholas, who is on the Nationwide Tour, seeking a return to the PGA Tour, where he last played in 2008.

And he's already been to the prom.