Lexi Thompson cruises, Lydia Ko’s cool, and Big 3 trail Sandra Gal at LPGA Titleholders

Sam Greenwood

Sandra Gal steals the show from a star-studded cast of players in the opening round of the LPGA Tour’s season-ending event.

For Lydia Ko, the teen with nerves of steel, her first LPGA start as a professional was pretty much like any other day -- hit the ball, putt the ball, make birdie, repeat.

A double-bogey and bogey in the first seven holes at the tour’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders event may not have been in the script, but the teen prodigy who will become an official LPGA member next year settled down after the unusually ragged start and shot 4-under for the rest of the opening round. Another ho-hum day at the office for the fifth-ranked player in the world.

"Just normal. It didn't feel too odd or special or slow or whatever today," the winner of two LPGA events as an amateur told reporters after finishing five shots behind 18-hole leader Sandra Gal. "That actually surprised me; I thought I would be much more nervous."

Another budding teen superstar, Lexi Thompson, will start her second round just two shots off the pace after a flawless 66 that picked up where she left off last week when she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. A victory on Sunday would make three in the last five starts for the 18-year-old Floridian.

Sharing the honors with the three-time tour winner was Curtis, Thompson’s brother and caddie for the week.

"He is a great green reader," Thompson, who gave the gallery packed with family members plenty to cheer about on Thursday, said about her looper. 
"Giving me the confidence over the shots ... That's really all you need out there is that little confidence boost going into a shot."

World No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, one of the tour’s "Big 3" (along with first seed Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis), was searching for something when she met coach David Leadbetter on the practice green after kicking off her quest for top billing with a double-bogey. Three birdies and a bogey later, Pettersen, who would cadge the Rolex Rankings crown for the first time in her career with a win, or a runner-up close if Player of the Year Park finishes seventh or lower, ended the day at even-par.

With all the intriguing story lines this week, none of the aforementioned dominated Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., on Thursday as Gal did when she tied the tournament record with a 64. The 2011 Kia Classic blasted out of the gate with six straight birdies and sprinted to the finish line with two more on her 17th and 18th holes.

"I thought this tournament was a little different than the other ones," said Gal, "so I thought I'm just going to be really aggressive and just go for everything because really all you want to do is win here."

As for how the youngest in the 70-player, no-cut field believed she would fare in her second round as a working stiff, the New Zealander by way of South Korea pretty much subscribed to Bob Marley’s "every little thing gonna be all right" philosophy.

"I think it will be much better," said the calm, cool, and collected 16-year-old.

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