Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson paired together in the final round of the first and favorite major of the season is everything the LPGA could want.
The two glitzy headliners -- one a grizzled vet at the age of 24 of whom much was expected, the other a teenager who briefly held the record as youngest player to win an LPGA event -- will go head-to-head for a chance to leap into Poppie’s Pond at Dinah Shore’s iconic Mission Hills Country Club. Commissioner Michael Whan must be as hyped up for Sunday’s finale as the contestants themselves.
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"I'm really excited I'm going into Sunday tied for the lead," Thompson told reporters after shooting a third-round 3-under 69 to get to 10-under for the week and into a tie with Wie.
"It's going to be a great pairing. We bomb it off the tee and hit a lot of drivers usually. So it will be exciting to watch," she said. "I know Michelle pretty well and I've gotten to play with her quite a few times, so it will be a great Sunday to watch."
Wie, who posted a 68 on Saturday, echoed the sentiments of her 2013 Solheim Cup teammate.
"It's very exciting. I'm really excited that I have a good chance tomorrow. I'm really happy with my placement," said the winner of two tour events who’s seeking her first triumph since 2010. "Definitely nervous for tomorrow, but extremely excited."
The members of the dream pairing that will bring up the rear in the finale of the season’s first major offer a study in contrasts. Thompson found success early, winning the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic at 16 and socking away two more in the intervening years to rise to No. 9 in the Rolex Rankings.
Wie exploded on the scene as a pre-teen who was going to take the golf world by storm. The script did not play out as written, though, and after years of criticism for not living up to the hype, Wie remains the most popular player on the women’s tour.
For added theater, each superstar is seeking the first major victory of her career.
For sure, with a successful season of two top 10s and no finish lower than T16 in five tourneys heading into this week’s elite event, Wie is in a good place. She views herself as the wizened old pro, though she’s just five years older than her final-round playing partner.
"I definitely feel a lot more confident out there on the golf course," Wie said. "I just go out there and I think I just know what I need to do, and I think that came with experience of playing so many rounds in my life. I'm definitely a lot more confident."
As if the aura surrounding the star-studded duo were not drenched in drama already, each co-leader, with a two-shot lead over 36-year-old and Korean golfing icon Se Ri Pak and the exciting English youngster and European Solheim Cup hero Charley Hull, is going after her first major victory.
Dazzling, eager and gifted, the final pairing is a match made in TV heaven. Wie and Thompson are both bombers with no fear, tee to green. Thompson averaged more than 274 yards per drive through three rounds, though her accuracy fell off each day (she found 12 of 14 fairways in regulation on Thursday, 10 of 14 on Friday, and eight of 14 in the third round). Wie’s (average 245 yards off the tee) dipped as well (11 of 14, 9/14, 8/14).
Each has some work to do on the greens (Wie averaged some 30.7 putts for each of the three rounds, Thompson 30.3), though Wie's formerly scorned putting approach seems to be working better for her than other methods she has tried.
Despite the less than flashy stats, both women sport scorecards that are relatively bogey-free, Wie with just two through 54 holes and none in her third round, Thompson with three, though one did come on Saturday’s final hole.
"Obviously, you're going to be a little nervous," Thompson said afterward. "But it's a good nervous. This is what I've been waiting for and what I've worked my whole life for. So I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
Her challenger concurred.
"Oh, yeah, I'm nervous. I probably won't sleep that well tonight," Wie said. "You want something so badly. I dreamed about this all my life, so I'm just trying to not think about it so much.
"I'm just trying to think it's a normal Sunday," she added. "Definitely nervous, but I think that's a good thing. It's a sign that I'm really excited and I really want this. I think it's good. Nerves are definitely good."
So buckle up, as the two big hitters take on each other, the field, the golf course, and try to siphon some of the attention away from the buildup to next week’s Masters, college basketball’s title game on Monday night, and the ruckus raised by Golf Digest’s controversial magazine cover.
''I know people will be really excited about tomorrow's pairing, but I'm not really going to worry about it,'' Thompson said. ''I'm just going to go out and have fun.''
In what could be the start of a beautiful rivalry, Wie and Thompson tee off at 5:01 ET. Must-see TV on Golf Channel.