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Maria Hjorth wins by two shots

Maria Hjorth won the Avnet Classic on Sunday for her fifth LPGA Tour title, capitalizing on Alexis Thompson’s collapse in a failed bid to become the youngest tour winner.

The Swede shot her second straight 5-under 67 to finish at 10-under 278, two strokes ahead of Song-Hee Kim (71) on The Crossings course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove complex.

The 16-year-old Thompson, tied for the lead with Kim entering the round, had a 78 to drop into a tie for 19th at 1 under. Thompson opened and closed with bogeys and had double bogeys after her ball went into the water on Nos. 14 and 15.

Na Yeon Choi (69) and Suzann Pettersen (70) finished three strokes back in joint third.

The veteran Hjorth’s husband Shaun McBride—who normally caddies on the PGA Tour—handled her bag. She had four of her six birdies on holes Nos. 3-7 to quickly move into the lead. Hjorth also won the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in 2010, and on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail event a few hours north in Prattville in 2007.

“I knew I just had to be patient,” Hjorth said. “My goal going in was trying to get double digits (under par), which is pretty hard to do. I didn’t think it was going to be enough for a win, but it was.”

She pocketed $195,000 for the victory.

Hjorth watched as Kim’s approach shot on No. 18 went into the bunker, sealing the win. Kim had an eagle on the par-15 16th hole to move to 8 under.

“I knew she was 10 under through 14 but I didn’t look at the scoreboard after I had an eagle,” Kim said. “I was just kind of playing my game.”

It made for a slightly delayed celebration for Hjorth because, as she said, “Miracles happen.”

“She could have holed out her shot,” Hjorth said. “It wasn’t until she hit her second shot that I knew I was going to win the tournament.”

Thompson, meanwhile, should have more chances to become the LPGA’s youngest winner.

She waved in acknowledgment of the gallery’s loud applause heading to the final hole, but walked off with an anguished expression on her face. Her bid for history had taken a sour turn, but she said nerves weren’t to blame.

“I just didn’t hit it very solid,” Thompson said. “My driver wasn’t that bad but my irons weren’t good. I just wasn’t trusting anything. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t even that nervous surprisingly.

“It definitely was (a learning experience). I’m only 16, so I’m just learning every tournament.”

She still has nearly two years to top Marlene Hagge, who was 18 years, 14 days when she won the 18-hole Sarasota Open. Hagge won two 18-hole events at 18. Paula Creamer is the youngest winner of a multi-round event, winning the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 years, 9 months, 17 days.

Hjorth’s advice for Thompson: Focus on the three strong days not the one rough one.

“I just hope that she learns things from it,” Hjorth said. “That’s the important thing. She’s going to be a great player and have a lot of wins and a lot of success.”

Scores

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