While most eyes in the golf world were trained on Tiger Woods and his miraculous chip shot to win the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament on Sunday, Stacy Lewis was quietly pounding the field at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and making her move on the top spot in women’s golf.
Lewis, who claimed the No. 3 position in the world rankings with her four-shot, 12-under win over Katherine Hull at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway, N.J., is rounding into form just in time for next week’s second major of the season, the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The victory Sunday was the third of her career and second consecutive stroke-play win, and she accomplished it despite posting a double bogey and bogey on back-to-back holes down the stretch.
Lewis’ momentary loss of focus mattered little, since the rest of the field, which included women’s No. 1 Yani Tseng and teen phenom Lexi Thompson, failed to capitalize on the leader’s mistakes. The victory helped Lewis achieve, at least for now, one of her goals for the 2012 season -- to become the top-ranked American on tour.
“I kind of saw myself moving up the rankings slowly and kind of put that as a ... short-term goal,” Lewis told reporters after lifting her second trophy of the season. “Ultimately it's to get to No. 1, but you've got to kind of chip away and move yourself up there."
“But you know, coming into this year, my goal was to lead the Solheim Cup points and be the top-ranked American,” Lewis said, “so I'm on track to do that, and now I just gotta finish out the year there.”
Lewis leapfrogged Cristie Kerr, who fell to No. 7, to get to her current position. Kerr had held onto that ranking since Nov. 23, 2009.
About knocking Tseng off her throne, Lewis conceded that would be a much more difficult feat.
“It's just hard when Yani is so far ahead right now,” she said. “So it's going to be chipping away at it. It took her a long time to build that lead, so it's going to take a long time to get closer.”
In the meantime, there was the the Wegmans coming right up. Fresh off her third career win, that could mean extra pressure on the 27-year-old, but Lewis said she was prepared.
“No. 1 for me is always preparing for the golf tournament,” she said. “So we kind of already have somewhat of a game plan of what we're doing next week, and I know I’m going to be busy, but the busier I get, I think that's a good thing because it means I'm playing good and I'm doing something right. So I welcome it.”
As for the rest of the ShopRite field, Thompson showed little rust from her hiatus from the Sybase Match Play Championship to attend her senior prom. Missing only two greens in regulation on Sunday, the popular 17-year-old finished at T5 after scoring a final-round 4-under 67.
“I've just been working on my consistency with my ball striking, and I've been working on my short game a lot, so it's finally playing off,” Thompson said. “Hopefully I can continue that.”
Thompson’s strong week helped her move closer to So Yeon Ryu’s lead in the race for Rookie of the Year. Ryu holds a 443-287 edge in RoY points.
Paula Creamer, who tied her best finish of the season with a share of third place, was pleased with her game but said playing next week’s tourney -- the first Wegmans event since the recent death of her beloved grandfather -- will be an emotional experience for her.
“I think the biggest thing is this is my first time playing Wegmans without my grandpa, Pops there,” said Creamer. “I think that's going to be the hardest thing just mentally because when I was an amateur he was there. So this will be more of a mental feat next week, I think, than really out on the golf course physically.”
Next week will also mark the professional debut of Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods. While yet another Woods will likely garner much of the attention, Lewis will go about her business in her usual, understated manner.
In fact, while others on tour -- like the completely clueless Michelle Wie, who shot a whopping 12-over to miss her fourth consecutive cut -- grab the limelight, Lewis said that provided additional incentive to win.
“It does put a little chip on my shoulder, I would have to say, because I kind of I think ... even last year I got overlooked a little bit,” said Lewis, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and had 11 other top-10 finishes. “I had a pretty good year last year and kind of got overlooked, so that was definitely a little bit of motivation coming into this year.”
Tseng, by the way, could get nothing going all week and ended up in a tie for 12th at 3-under. It was the end of a streak of eight consecutive top-10 closes for the five-time majors winner.