PINEHURST, N.C. – Just when it looked like Michelle Wie was going to run away and hide on moving day at the US Women’s Open, unforgiving Pinehurst No. 2 pulled her back to the field.
She entered the day as the 36-hole leader by three shots after twin rounds of 68. After consecutive birdies at 9 and 10, Wie took a four-shot lead to the 11th hole Saturday in the Carolina Sandhills in her quest to win her first major championship. But on consecutive holes she visited the trees and lost three shots to par – and her solo lead – and didn’t make a birdie coming in.
Still, at the end of the day, Wie held a share of the lead with Amy Yang, who has one win on the LPGA tour. The two are the only players under par after 54 holes as Wie shot 2-over-par 72 and is at 2 under for the tournament while Yang shot a 68 that included six birdies.
“It’s hot out there; I think I need to maybe warm up a little less tomorrow, because I felt like I was really tired,” Wie, 24, said. “It’s definitely a grind, it’s not an easy golf course. Still 2 over today, I still can’t complain. 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.
While the marquee group of Wie and Kraft Nabisco champion Lexi Thompson fizzled on the back nine and temperatures sizzled in the mid-90s, the door to the title swung open. Fourteen players are within six shots of the lead heading into Sunday’s final round. That group includes Juli Inkster, who at 53 is playing in her 35th and final US Women’s Open.
Or so she said this week.
Inkster, a winner of seven majors who played in her first US Women’s Open when Tiger Woods was 2, shot the week’s lowest round with a 66. She shares third place at 2 over with Stephanie Meadow (69), the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur Minjee Lee (72) and 2012 US Women’s Open champion Na Yeon Choi (71).
In a group of five at 3 over are Thompson (74) and Karrie Webb (70). At 4 over is world No. 1 and two-time major winner Stacy Lewis (74) and 2010 US Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer (72).
Inkster, who turns 54 on Tuesday, would break plenty of age records if she were to win. Fay Crocker, who won the 1960 Titleholders at 45, is the oldest to win a women’s major. Babe Zaharias, who was 43 when she won the 1954 US Women’s Open, is the oldest winner of the national championship. And the oldest winner in LPGA tour history is Beth Daniel, who was 46 when she won the 2003 Canadian Women’s Open.
Inkster, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens in regulation, was 42 when she won the 2002 US Women’s Open.
“This game is so weird,” Inkster said. “You never know. The first day I played great. Yesterday I played horrible. Today I played great. So hopefully I’m going to break the pattern and have a good one tomorrow.
” … I’m going to be right in the mix. … You can think and you can dream all you want (about winning a major), but the bottom line is you’ve got to come out and make the shots. 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’ve got a long way to go. I’m just going to enjoy the moment and hit a few balls and see what happens.”
Wie is eager to see what happens with her game on Sunday and what Inkster will do. Wie was asked if she was surprised to look at the leaderboard and see Inkster, “who is about a billion years old,” the reporter said.
“I wouldn’t call it a billion years old, she’s probably a million years old,” Wie said with a laugh. “Someone told me that this is probably her last US Open. So I saw her at 4 under today I was like, yeah, right. She’s got a lot of years left in her. She’s definitely someone that I really look up to, especially in the fact that she’s a fighter. Every time I play with her, every time I watch her play, she’s a true fighter out on the golf course. Even if she plays bad or well, she fights, she plays her heart out, and that’s something that I really look forward to.”