Michelle Wie may not have taken the plunge into Poppie’s Pond after finishing a distant second to Lexi Thompson in the season’s first major on Sunday, but the popular LPGA Tour pro took a different type of leap — up the leader board in the world rankings.
On the strength of her runner-up result, the 24-year-old former phenom climbed 14 spots in the Rolex Rankings to sit at No. 24, a minuscule .13 points behind former No. 1 Jiyai Shin and nearly 30 points ahead of 2014 Pure Silks-Bahama LPGA Classic winner Jessica Korda.
Thompson, who began Sunday’s Kraft Nabisco Championship finale tied with Wie at 10-under, birdied the first hole of what was essentially match play between the two 54-hole co-leaders going head-to-head in the final pairing at Mission Hills and she never looked back.
The much-anticipated final-round shootout between two of the longer hitters on tour, each gunning for her first major W, was really more of a misfire. Thompson, ranked first on tour in driving distance (some 275 yards on average off the tee) took aggressive aim at her targets from the start, while Wie (46th in the same category) chose to holster her big gun for much of the day.
Thompson, the youngest golfer to win an LPGA event, the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic, until Lydia Ko claimed that honor a year later, walloped driver at every opportunity. She may have found only nine fairways in regulation, but with Wie hitting stingers with fairway metals and only the infrequent driver, Thompson stuck with her winning game plan.
”I play this course very aggressively,” Thompson, who rebounded from an opening 1-over 73 to record three rounds in the 60s (64, 69, 68), told reporters following her flawless closing score. ”I didn’t want to change the way I played the last few days because my driver won’t get me in any trouble on a lot of the holes. So, laying back wouldn’t really make sense.”
For sure, the conservative strategy did not work out for Wie, who used her driver just four times and came up short of Thompson on several occasions, sometimes by as much 50 yards or more. With Lexi’s short game working for her (just 29 putts in Sunday’s finale) as her opponent missed several short ones down the stretch, the three-shot gap at the end was not nearly so close as it appeared.
Wie, the much-hyped phenom who disappointed critics who complained that she failed to live up to her potential after bursting onto the golf scene at age 10, won the second of her two tour events in 2010. Sunday was her 12th start in the season’s first major and her best finish. She closed at ninth in 2001 when she was 13, fourth the next year, and posted a T16 in 2006.
“I thought I played okay,” Wie said after carding a 1-over 71 on Sunday. “I think it just got to a point where I just tried to force it. I think I needed to really come back with a lot of birdies and I think it got to a point where I just tried too hard. But I’m just proud of myself for how the week went.”
In addition to Sunday’s result, Wie has had top-16 finishes in each of the six events she has started this year. After Sunday’s loss, the Big Wiesy patted herself on the back and set her sights on capturing her own maiden grand slam title.
“It was a lot of fun playing in contention, being in the final group. It was nice to be in the final group at Kraft again. I think it’s a sign. I think I’m getting close. I think I can get a lot of confidence from this week….I’m improving and improving, and I think getting second at a major, I think it means that I’m close,” she said. “There’s four more majors left this year, and…I just want to keep improving a little bit every day.”