Stacy Lewis is starting to feel right at home in Alabama, savoring everything from the Bermuda grass to the comfort of the familiar low-budget hotel where the staffers greet her by name.
Lewis won the Navistar LPGA Classic on Sunday for her third LPGA Tour victory in five months and second in the state, closing with a 3-under 69 to beat defending champion Lexi Thompson by two strokes.
Lewis parred the final two holes after a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 16 gave her the final cushion, and Thompson shot a 66 on The Senator course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Capitol Hill complex.
”Lexi was within one when we got to the 16th green and that’s the only time all day I actually knew what was going on,” Lewis said. ”Making birdie there on 16 was huge to just kind of give me that cushion.”
Lewis won in Mobile in late April, edging Thompson by a stroke in that tournament. The former Arkansas star also won the Shoprite LPGA Classic in June.
The 17-year-old Thompson rebounded from a third-round 74. She won the event last year at 16 to become the youngest champion in LPGA Tour history, a mark broken last month by 15-year-old amateur Lydia Ko in the Canadian Women’s Open.
Lewis finished at 18 under, one shot shy of the tournament record set by Australia’s Katherine Hull in 2010. Lewis reclaimed the No. 2 spot in the world rankings and earned $195,000 – but still stayed at a $75-a-night hotel in Prattville like usual.
Now, she and Yani Tseng are tied for the tour lead in victories this year when Lewis has claimed three of her four victories. She also won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.
Lewis, who earned 30 points, leads Jiyai Shin by 56 points in the player of the year race. Shin skipped the Navistar after winning the last two events.
Lewis is trying to become the first American player of the year since Beth Daniel in 1994.
”It’s unbelievable,” Lewis said. ”Winning never gets easier. It might have looked easy out there but it was hard. Every shot was stressful and on this golf course with one swing you can make a double pretty easy. I had some adrenaline going at the end.”
Her previous best at the Navistar was a tie for sixth last year, but she still likes competing in this state.
”I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s the Bermuda grass,” Lewis said. ”It’s kind of what I grew up on in Texas. I love playing these kind of courses where you just have to hit good shots. If you don’t hit good shots you’re not rewarded. I like that. It’s hard, and you can make birdies but you have to hit the shots.”
Lewis had a three-putt for bogey on No. 2, but birdied No. 5 and made a 15-footer for another on the ninth hole.
”That was kind of the key putt for me,” she said.
Thompson made quite a run with birdies on holes 10-12. She set up fairly short putts on all three, making a 6-footer, a 1-footer and a 10-footer.
Thompson missed birdie putts on three of the final four holes, making one on No. 17 to close to within a stroke. Then she saw Lewis move to two strokes ahead when Thompson was on the final hole before enduring another near-miss with a chance to turn up the pressure on the leader.
”I just got some weird putts that broke differently than I thought,” Thompson said. ”Just total misreads. That happens. You get a few goofy putts but I was happy with the shots I hit into those holes.”
Both players are starting to feel Alabama is sweet home these days. Thompson kept up her daily ritual with breakfast at the Waffle House – skipping the high-carbohydrate specialty – and handled the coin toss at a high school football game.
She high-fived two kids after her birdie on No. 17 gave her new life but once again couldn’t overtake Lewis in Alabama.
”She’s played amazing this year,” Thompson said. ”Everybody knows how great a player she is. Once I saw her go into the lead into today, I knew I would have to put up a good round.”
Thompson opened with a career-best 63, tying the tournament record. She came out with a mind-set to erase thoughts of the rough Saturday.
”Pretty much just forget totally about (Saturday) and come into today blank-minded and just free swing,” she said of her approach. ”I have nothing to lose, just go for birdies. I bogeyed the first hole and I just went for it from there.”