Wie Leads Thompson by Three, Setting Up Familiar Saturday Grouping
By Stuart Hall
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie is no longer a worrywart when it comes to golf.
Wie, 24, neither frets about her score nor her position on the leader board. A cliché, Wie realizes, but she is “really just trying to stay in the present.”
The present looks promising for Wie through two rounds of the 69th U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2. Wie shot a second-round, 2-under-par 68 and leads by three strokes with a 4-under-par 136 score.
Wie birdied her final two holes to leap over first-round leader Stacy Lewis and take a one-stroke clubhouse lead that widened as Lewis struggled to a 3-over 73 in the afternoon.
Lexi Thompson, 19, who is seeking to win her second major of the year, put on a late charge with a 3-under 32 on her second nine to match the day’s low round of 68, and is at 1-under 139. Thompson and Wie will be in Saturday’s final grouping, starting at 1:25 p.m. EDT.
Amy Yang, of the Republic of Korea, who shot a 1-under 69, and 18-year-old Minjee Lee, of Australia, with a 1-over 71, are tied for third with Lewis at even-par 140, four shots back. Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open champion, shot a 71 and is alone in sixth at 1-over 141.
Reigning champion Inbee Park shot 71 and is at 7-over 147. Eleven-year-old Lucy Li, the youngest qualifier in championship history, posted a second successive 8-over 78 and finished at 16-over-par 156.
Seventy-one players made the cut of 9-over 149.
The day’s sun and spotlight shined on Wie, whose 68 was one of six under-par scores on a day when the field scoring average was 75.0, nearly a full stroke lower than Thursday’s opening round.
Wie began her round with eight consecutive pars before a birdie from 15 feet on the par-4 18th hole, her ninth. After giving the stroke back on the par-4 first hole, she made six more pars before making birdies from 12 and 15 feet, respectively, at the eighth and ninth holes.
“I’m not really thinking about the score,” said Wie, whose only top-10 finish in the U.S. Women’s Open came in 2006. “I think this year I have just tried to think about every shot, every hole. And I've talked a lot about this with other players, the older players and some of the guys, as well.”
Wie’s new mindset has brought about positive results. In 12 starts in 2014, she has eight top-10 finishes, including a win at the LPGA Lotte Championship in April, and is ranked No. 11 in the world.
Wie appears relaxed and confident, finally comfortable with the expectations that began when, at age 10, she became the youngest person to qualify for a USGA women’s amateur championship – the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
Three years later she won that same championship, heightening the expectations, and in 2005, she held the U.S. Women’s Open’s 54-hole lead before tying for 23rd. Later that year she turned professional and in 2006 she again held this championship’s 54-hole lead and tied for third, her best finish.
The successes, and even the wins, were sporadic and sparse. She enrolled at Stanford University in 2007, joined the LPGA Tour in 2009 and won her first professional title later that year. She won in 2010, but not again until April.
Did she ever lose her drive?
“I never lost it,” she said. “I think that it's a lot more fun when you work hard. The results show. I've been very patient, even when I didn't play well. I worked hard. I knew I could get better. I knew I could improve.
“But that's the game of golf. I think that's what's so fun about it. You can never quite perfect it. I love working on my game. I love working on different shots. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive. It is a lot more fun when you work hard and the results show. It kind of motivates you to work even harder.”
In the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April, Wie and Thompson were paired together in the final round’s last grouping. Thompson won by three strokes.
On Friday, Thompson, ranked No. 6 in the world, made birdies on hole Nos. 3-5 on her second nine, but could not close the gap any further on Wie. Thompson, the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, will lean on the experience from her major victory 2½ months earlier.
“Just getting that confidence for my first major win helped me out,” Thompson said. “Just coming down the stretch with that much pressure, through that last round and not being that nervous. So coming into the weekend and being in the final group tomorrow, I think that experience will help me out a lot.”
Lewis, 29, who played a bogey-free opening round, started the second round with a bogey and added five more on the afternoon. Though her second-round score was six strokes worse than her first, Lewis managed to keep the round in the context of the larger four-day picture.
“You can't fret over one round,” she said. “You're going to have a bad round on this golf course. It's just the way it is. If that's the worst I play this week, I think I'll be all right. But [I played] one-under par the last five holes and hit some good iron shots and I'm going to take that into tomorrow, because it's there. I hit a ton of fairways today and the swing's not that far off. So just going to shore up the putting a little bit and we'll be good.”
Lee, the No. 1-ranked female amateur and 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, is not in awe of her first U.S. Women’s Open appearance. Only four strokes off the lead, Lee has changed her goal, but not the game plan.
“I want to get as close as I can, but just try and chase them,” said Lee, who seeks to join Catherine Lacoste, who in 1967 became the only amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open. “But I'm going to stick to what I've been doing all week. So nothing is going to change.”
Nor should it with 36 holes remaining, but the field cannot allow Wie to get too far ahead on Saturday. The largest final-round comeback to win is five strokes, last accomplished by three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam in 1995.
Like Thompson, Yang, 24, also made a late run in her round, making three birdies in her final seven holes to be one of five players at even par or better for the championship.
“My own chances? I'm playing pretty solid right now,” Yang said. “I'm feeling good. I think I can finish well this week. This is kind of a tough course, you need to really be patient.”
Staying in the present appears to work as well.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly on usga.org and uswomensopen.com.
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