Yang, Wie Are Tied at Top, Four Strokes Clear
By Stuart Hall
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Amy Yang is trending upward at the 69th U.S. Women’s Open.
Yang went lower for the third straight round, shooting a 2-under-par 68 on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 on Saturday, and shares the 54-hole lead with Michelle Wie.
Yang posted the day’s second-best round and benefited from the struggles of the final grouping that featured marquee Americans Lexi Thompson and Wie.
“Well, I had a really great round today,” said Yang, 24, of the Republic of Korea. “Kind of started up-and-down, but later toward the back nine I was hitting the ball much more solid, better than yesterday. I think I putted really well, too. I'm really happy about my round today.”
Yang and Wie, who shot a 2-over 72 after consecutive 68s, are tied at 2-under 208 for the championship, four strokes ahead of an eclectic foursome of players at 2-over 212.
Eighteen-year-old Australian amateur Minjee Lee and 53-year-old Juli Inkster provide the youth and veteran savvy in the group, which also includes Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open champion, and Stephanie Meadow, 22, of Northern Ireland, who turned professional seven days ago.
Meadow shot 69, one of eight under-par rounds that helped lower the field scoring average for the week to 73.29. Choi shot 71 and Lee shot 72.
And amid the struggles of the leaders and No. 1-ranked Stacy Lewis, who shot 74 and is tied for 12th at 4-over 214, Inkster emerged as the day’s feel-good story.
Inkster, the 1999 and 2002 U.S. Women’s Open champion who is playing in her 35th and what she calls her final championship, jarred Father Time with a splendid 4-under 66, this Open’s lowest round and Inkster’s lowest in this championship since a final-round 66 in her ’02 victory.
Inkster began her third round tied for 28th, 10 strokes back of the lead. As Inkster crafted her gem and others gave strokes back to par, she continually crept up the leader board.
Inkster’s position heading into Sunday prompted the question of whether she can still win.
“You can think and you can dream all you want, but the bottom line is you've got to come out and make the shots,” Inkster said. “So, tomorrow I've got to come out and make the shots. And if I'm tied for the lead coming up 18, then maybe I'll think about it. I'm just going to enjoy the moment.”
Yang entered Saturday tied for third, four strokes back of the lead. She didn’t make a par until the par-4 eighth hole in an up-and-down opening nine of 1-under 34.
Yang’s inward 1-under 34 was a bit more stable, highlighted by her championship-leading 12th and 13th birdies. A bogey on the 18th hole dropped her into the tie with Wie.
Yang is familiar with being in contention at the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2010 and 2012, Yang was third and second, respectively, heading into the final round and tied for fifth and second. She also tied for 10th in 2011.
“I already experienced how it will be like,” said Yang, who will be paired with Wie, a good friend, in Sunday’s final grouping. “So I think I will control my feelings well and stay patient.”
At times on Saturday, Wie could have lost her patience and let the round get away from her. But she remained composed and takes a confident tone into Sunday.
“Obviously there were a couple of shots I wanted back, and I felt I could do better, but at the same time I really grinded out there and I tried my best. I’m happy with that,” said Wie, who now has held or shared three 54-hole leads at the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2005 and 2006, she tied for 23rd and third, respectively.
Wie’s round began with a bogey and she got the stroke back with a birdie at the par-4 third. Meanwhile, Thompson made a pair of birdies to get within a stroke at 3 under.
Starting with the eighth hole, the complexion of the day and the possibilities it held for both players began to change.
First, Thompson made consecutive double bogeys to close her outward nine and dropped from contention, adding a 2-over 37 to her troubles and finishing with a 74. Thompson is tied for seventh at 3-over 213.
Wie birdied the par-3 ninth and par-5 10th to reach 6 under and assume a four-shot lead over Yang. But Wie stumbled with a double bogey at the par-4 11th, and bogeys at the par-4 12th and 14th holes. Within four holes, Wie had dropped four strokes and the lead.
“My swing definitely got away from me for a little bit,” Wie said. “Tempo was a little bit off. I hit one left and the next one I hit right. But I went out on 13 and talked to my caddie and I was like, ‘Just start over, just focus on what I was thinking about on the front nine.’ And the swing felt really great coming in.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly on usga.org and uswomensopen.com.
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