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Triumphant return for Thompson
September 20, 2012

Lexi Thompson -9, Rolex Rankings No. 25
Lizette Salas -7, Rolex Rankings No. 146
Hee Young Park -7, Rolex Rankings No. 38
Stacy Lewis -6, Rolex Rankings No. 3
Amanda Blumenherst -6, Rolex Rankings No. 175
Alena Sharp -5, Rolex Rankings No. 276

Lexi Thompson added another line to her ever-growing résumé on Thursday at the Navistar LPGA Classic where she tied the tournament record and shot a career-low 9-under-par 63 to take the first round lead. Thompson, who last year shot 17-under-par 271 as a 16-year-old in 2011 to become the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history in Prattville (a record that was broken in August by 15-year-old Lydia Ko), returned to the site of her triumph with a vengeance during first round play, carding a bogey-free day with nine birdies to take a two-shot lead.

“It feels really good getting a first round of 63 under my belt, but you have to take it one shot at a time,” she said. “Can’t get ahead of yourself in this game, so just going to hope to play like I did today for the next three rounds.”

Thompson bettered her previous career-best of 65 – which she most recently shot in the final round of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic – by two shots and had a decent look at birdie on the 18th hole, which she missed, to shoot 62.

“I wasn’t thinking about the course record, I was just trying to put a good stroke on it like every other putt,” she said.

The teenager holds a two-shot lead over 2011 CME Group Titleholders champ Hee Young Park and LPGA rookie Lizette Salas, who also carded a career-low, at 7-under-par 65. Five players, including Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis, are tied for fourth at 6-under-par 66.

Before each round of the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic Lexi Thompson found herself eating breakfast at a Waffle House down the street from the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. It seemed the nourishment contributed to her first place finish, so it’s not a surprise the 17-year-old has superstitions about the restaurant. Just before heading to the golf course this morning, she stopped to get a plate of egg whites, wheat toast, hash browns and bacon prepared specially by Thompson’s favorite cook, Valerie Perry.

Perry served her last year and although the cook was supposed to have this week off, she made sure she would be here to serve the defending champion. Thompson says the restaurant’s environment makes for an enjoyable morning as she gets in tournament mode for the day.

“Well Valerie, she's the main cook there and she sings so it keeps me relaxed, keeps me laughing before my round, so it's a good atmosphere.” Thompson said.

Perry is known for singing some of the top-40 artists like Justin Beiber and Katy Perry while cooking; however, she tends to replace words with food items.

“She sings Justin Bieber ‘Baby’ pretty good, but puts ‘bacon’ instead of ‘baby,’” Thompson said. “It's pretty funny.”

Thompson plans to carry the tradition this week, seeing that the meal yielded a 9-under finish for the day giving her a two-stroke lead heading into the second round.

Lizette Salas headlines a group of four rookies finishing in the top-10 on the first day of the Navistar LPGA Classic. She carded a career-low 65 to tie for second along with Hee Young Park, holding the lead for several hours before fellow rookie Lexi Thompson took over with a 9-under 63.

This isn’t the first time the Symetra Tour graduate has been in contention this year, as she had lurked around the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Women’s Open. After a few solid rounds, Salas was disappointed in her final round performance, carding an 80 to finish with a tie for 32nd. But despite the frustration Salas sought after Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez for some support and advice.

“It's just great to have the support from a Hall of Famer who you've looked up to not only on the golf side but outside of the golf course who you look up to, how she holds herself, her attitude towards life in general,” Salas said. “She's just a great role model not just for me but for all the young players out here.”

Lopez reached out to Salas shortly after her debut on the Symetra Tour and has served as a mentor to the rookie ever since. She also followed Salas during every round of the U.S. Women’s Open. Salas says the support from one of the LPGA greats is “a dream come true.”

It’s hard for the casual golf fan to understand how shooting 66 could be unsatisfying. But for Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis, shooting 6-under-par 66 and leaving birdies on the course is tough to take.

“It was actually a pretty frustrating 66,” Lewis said. “I had a ton of putts go right over the edge and just lip out.”

The Texan registered six birdies on a bogey-free day. She can reclaim the No. 2 spot on the Rolex Rankings from an absent Na Yeon Choi this week. Lewis is also seeking to complete the Alabama Slam this week following her victory in the spring at the 2012 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, just a couple hours south on I-65. To date this season, Lewis has 13 top-10 finishes and two victories. She took over as top-ranked American on the Rolex Rankings following her win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June and currently leads the race for 2012 Rolex Player of the Year, which was last won by an American by Beth Daniel in 1994.

The Navistar LPGA Classic marks the last full field LPGA Tour event in 2012 and a number of players are fighting to get inside the top 100 on the money list to earn “exempt” status via Category 1 (1-80 on season-ending money list) or Category 11 (81-100 on season-ending money list) for 2013. Players on the first page of the leaderboard who can improve their 2013 status this week include:

Mi Hyang Lee (-6): currently 153rd on the money list/also 4th on the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card
Wendy Ward (-6): currently 107th on the money list
Karlin Beck (-5): currently 149th on the money list
Dori Carter (-5): currently 115th on the money list
Alena Sharp (-5): currently 106th on the money list
Lorie Kane (-5): currently 90th on the money list

During Friday’s second-round telecast, LPGA rookies Danielle Kang and Sydnee Michaels will participate in the third Golf Channel Takeover of the 2012 season. Kang will operate an on-course microphone, while Michaels will handle graphics in the production truck. Second-round coverage of the Navistar LPGA Classic airs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Earlier this season at the Kia Classic, Christina Kim (play-by-play), Brittany Lincicome (producer) and Stacy Lewis (tower camera) took part in the first Golf Channel takeover. In June, Belen Mozo (producer) and Azahara Munoz (director) participated in the second takeover.

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