Lexi Thompson provided plenty of inspiration of her own Sunday in the ANA Inspiration, nearly completing one of golf’s greatest comebacks.
Leading by two strokes after 12 holes of the final round Sunday, Thompson was informed by LPGA rules officials that she had been assessed four penalty strokes because of an incident in Saturday’s third round at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She went from two strokes ahead of Suzann Pettersen to two down in an instant.
The LPGA’s statement:
“On Sunday afternoon, the LPGA received an email from a television viewer, saying that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round of the ANA Inspiration. The claim was quickly investigated by LPGA Rules officials. After a full review, it was determined that Thompson breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place), and received a two-stroke penalty under Rule 16-1b. She incurred an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for returning an incorrect scorecard in round three. She was immediately notified of the breach by LPGA Rules Committee in between holes 12 and 13 of the final round.”
When approached by Sue Witters, the LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition, as Thompson walked to the 13th tee with her caddie, she listened intently and responded: “Is this a joke?”
Informed that it was not, she replied: “That’s just ridiculous.”
In tears on the tee at the par-4 13th, Thompson proceeded to rip a tee shot down the left side before sinking a 20-foot birdie putt. Inspired by an outpouring of crowd support, she added another birdie at the 15th. She dropped a shot at the par-4 16th before narrowly missing a potentially winning eagle putt at the par-5 18th, settling for birdie and a share of the 72-hole lead with So Yeon Ryu, who had finished play earlier.
Thompson lost to Ryu, who birdied No. 18 in a playoff. The victory is the fourth in her career for Ryu, a South Korean who also won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.
Yet this tournament, the LPGA’s first major championship of the season, likely will be remembered more for how Thompson lost than for how Ryu won.
“I did not intentionally do that," Thompson said about the penalty. "So to the officials, or whatever called in, that was not my purpose. I didn't even realize I did that.”
Ryu, who shot a bogey-free 4-under 68 for a 14-under 274 total, said she “cannot believe the situation” that led to her first victory in nearly three years.
“During play, I didn't even check the leaderboard,” she said, “but I thought Lexi played really, really well.”
Especially considering that four-shot penalty.