Former golf prodigies Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, along with current phenom Lydia Ko, are reasons 1, 2, and 3 why the LPGA has the PGA Tour on the ropes and Finchem Nation turning its lonely eyes to Tiger Woods.
In the last month alone, Thompson outlasted Wie for the first major of the season in a title bout in which The Big Wiesy dropped her gloves only in the final rounds, the Kraft Nabisco runner-up rebounded two weeks later to end a four-year dry spell and grab her first W at home, and Time’s most influential golfer celebrated her 17th birthday by notching her third tour victory.
With Woods laid up indefinitely after back surgery, the revolving door of first-time winners (and even two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson) on the men’s side has failed to produce the drama, thrills, and interest from golf fans who circle Tiger's golf dates on their own calendars, or that the high-octane superstars on the LPGA delivered throughout the Augusta month of April.
It was must-see TV for the Sunday finale of the once-and-future(?) Dinah Shore, after Thompson and Wie tied for the lead after 54 holes. World Golf Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak trying to catch up and cadge the one major she needs for the career Grand Slam vs. European whiz kid Charley Hull added to the intensity. Thompson, however, slugged her way past the field down the stretch, winning her fourth tour event and first major by three shots.
The popular Wie, on the comeback trail at the ripe old age of 24, took center stage when she aggressively shot her way to the top of the leader board on her home course at Ko Olina Golf Club in Oahu. In addition to winning for the first time since 2010, Wie, who has four additional top-10 finishes this season after a wretched 2012 and 2013, rocketed up the world rankings into 13th place and into the catbird seat atop the money list.
A week later in San Francisco, Wie was in the mix but ceded the spotlight to the world’s new No. 2 who, as a (younger) kid, idolized the lanky Hawaiian.
Ko, whom Time revealed on her birthday to be one of only five athletes among its most influential people, did not disappoint. Her six-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole at Lake Merced to hold off former No. 1 Stacy Lewis topped off a sensational week for the youngster, who bloodlessly stuffed shot after shot from the rough to win her third tour competition.
Though Ko will rest her weary, 17-year-old bones this week, Wie and Thompson look to renew in Dallas what could be the start of a beautiful rivalry. With Suzann Pettersen seeking to build on her return from a back injury, Lewis hoping to better last week’s runner-up outcome, and top-ranked Inbee Park aiming to defend her North Texas LPGA Shootout title, commissioner Michael Whan could not be more pleased.
''Stars drive sports,'' the commish told Doug Ferguson on Monday. ''When LeBron [James] is in the championship game, when Michelle and Lexi are battling for a major, when Tiger plays, it makes a difference. Everybody thinks they know who those stars are."
For sure, golf fans will not need a program to identify the players this week in Irving. Fingers crossed that Thompson and Wie get a chance to reprise their Mission Hills showdown at the Big D Shootout.