BELLEAIR — Of course, she had a chance at the end.
Lexi Thompson really is that good, and so it was no surprise that the door was opened for her on the final hole of the Pelican Women’s Championship on Sunday afternoon.
And fate really can be that cruel, so it was no surprise that — after all her efforts, shots and focus — Thompson would fall one stroke behind in an LPGA tournament.
If you’re counting, that makes nine runnerup finishes since Thompson’s last win on the tour a little more than three years ago. That is a phenomenal streak of success. Of consistency. And of heartbreak.
She is currently No. 10 on the LPGA’s all-time money list and is still only 27. No player has won as much money on the tour as Thompson in the past decade, and she is playing some of the best golf of her career. And yet, lately, every success comes tinged with a bit of regret.
Just moments after Sunday’s winner, Nelly Korda, was sprayed with champagne just off the 18th green, Thompson stood nearby with a bittersweet grin as she talked about the past three seasons.
“I guess it’s a bit frustrating to be so close and not get as many wins as I would’ve liked, but that’s golf,” Thompson said. “I mean, that’s what’s so crazy about this game. You lose more than you win, unfortunately. But you’re constantly learning, and that’s what I keep telling myself every time I tee it up.
“If it doesn’t go my way, what can I build off? What can I learn? What kind of shot can I backtrack to? I’m constantly learning, and that’s what I’ve been feeding back to, which is positive.”
This is not a matter of failing to perform in the final round. At least not completely. Thompson began the day a stroke off the lead and shot 4-under 66. She played the final six holes at 2 under and kept the pressure on Korda, who beat her in a four-way playoff at last year’s Pelican.
But, like so many times in the past, there was a brief stumble that ended up costing Thompson. She went from a two-stroke lead to a two-stroke deficit after a pair of bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12.
“I think in previous years if that would have happened, I would’ve let it get to me,” Thompson said. “Even after hitting it in the water (on No. 12) I could have let that get to me. I was like, ‘All right, snap out of it.’ Yeah, you’re not happy, but getting more upset isn’t going to do me any good.”
Thompson immediately rebounded with a pair of birdies to get back into a tie at the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately for her, Korda birdied two of the final three holes.
Thompson looked poised for a run at No. 17 when her approach shot bounced about 10 feet from the hole, but the backspin sent it rolling off the green and down a sharp slope. It was almost identical to the shot that hit the green at No. 12 and rolled backward into a water hazard.
“I definitely played (No. 17) the way I wanted,” she said. “It didn’t land as far back as I needed it to.”
Korda went into No. 18 with a two-stroke lead but gave Thompson an opening when she overshot the green, then passed the cup for a three-putt. But Thompson’s approach missed badly, and her chip fell 2 feet shy of the cup.
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Thompson walks away with a $186,096 paycheck, and she solidified her spot in the top-10 rankings. And while she has now gone 60 LPGA events without a victory, Thompson did win the individual title at a Ladies European Tour Aramco Team Series event in New York last month.
The talent is there, much like it was from 2013-19 when she was the only player on the LPGA Tour to win an event in each season. She had 11 career victories by her 24th birthday, but No. 12 is proving to be harder than Thompson ever expected.
“Golf is such a mental game that I think my mindset right now is just, you know, ‘It is what it is,’ " Thompson said. “I’ve been putting in the hours and the hard work, and if it doesn’t show up when I’m playing, there’s nothing I can do about it. I know I’ve put in the time and dedication in the gym and on the golf course. So it’s just coming out here and believe in that and letting it go because I can’t force it.
“Forcing things never gets me anywhere.”
Contact John Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Romano_TBTimes.