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Wie sets a standard in Women’s Open at Pinehurst

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PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie is becoming a regular contender in major championships, only now as an adult.

She captivated women’s golf as a teenager, contending in three straight LPGA Tour majors when she was 16. That was when she still was trying to compete against the men, when she didn’t always look as if she was having fun and before injuries and criticism were a big part of her growing pains.

On another tough day at Pinehurst No. 2, the 24-year-old from Hawaii held it together Friday with two key par putts and finished with back-to-back birdies for a 2-under 68, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I think you look at the way Michelle has played the last six months and you look at her differently,” said Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who was four shots out of the lead. “I think she’s become one of the best ball-strikers on tour. She hits it really consistent. She knows where the ball’s going. And she’s figuring out how to win. That’s the big thing.”

But there’s a familiar name, and another teen prodigy, who joined Wie as the only players still under par.

Lexi Thompson, who soundly beat Wie in the final round to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship for her first major title, powered her way out of the sand and weeds, running off three straight birdies to match Wie’s 68, the low score Friday.

For all the interest in the men and women playing Pinehurst No. 2 in successive weeks, Wie and Thompson made the Women’s Open more closely resemble the first LPGA major. Is it too early to start thinking rematch?

“Definitely too early,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Thirty-six holes in a major, that’s a lot of golf to be played, especially at a U.S. Women’s Open.”

For now, Wie had control. Her three-shot lead is the largest through 36 holes in the Women’s Open in 11 years.

She twice thought her shots were going off the turtleback greens, and twice she relied on her table-top putting stance to make long par saves. She finished with a 6-iron that set up a 12-foot birdie putt, and a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to reach 4-under 136.

“End of the day yesterday, I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice,” Wie said. “Finishing with two birdies is always great. It’s a grind out there. It’s not easy. Really grateful for the par putts that I made and some of the birdie putts that I made. I can’t complain. I’ll take it.”

Just when it looked as if this had the trappings of another runaway – Martin Kaymer led by at least four shots over the final 48 holes to win the U.S. Open – along came Thompson with a shot reminiscent of what Kaymer did last week.

From the sand and bushes left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole, Thompson blasted a 5-iron from 195 yards just off the green, setting up two putts for birdie from about 60 feet. Kaymer was in roughly the same spot in the third round when he hit 7-iron from 202 yards to 5 feet, that pin position more toward the front.

That was her third straight birdie, and she closed with four pars to reach 139.

Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills, with a brief shower in the middle of the afternoon that didn’t do much to soften a dry, crusty golf course.

Lewis, who opened with a bogey-free 67, picked up a bogey on her first hole in a wild round of six bogeys, three birdies and a tough 73. Even so, the two-time major champion managed to see the big picture.

“I hung around, and that’s what you’ve got to do at this tournament,” said Lewis, at even-par with Amy Yang (69) and Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia who played bogey-free on the back nine to salvage a 71.

Lucy Li, the precocious 11-year-old and youngest qualifier in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open, isn’t leaving town until Monday. She just won’t be playing any more golf. The sixth-grader from the Bay Area started with a double bogey for the second straight day and shot another 78 to miss the cut by seven shots.

The cut was 9-over 149.

Na Yeon Choi had a 70 and was at 1-over 141, followed by a Paula Creamer (72) at 2-over 142. The group at 143 included Karrie Webb (73) and So Yeon Ryu (74), who saved her hopes with three straight birdies on the front nine, and narrowly missing a fourth. All of them are former Women’s Open champions.

This is a different Wie they are chasing. She already has won this year in Hawaii, and she has eight top 10s and is No. 2 on the LPGA money list.

Attribute that to a putting stroke that she owns, no matter how peculiar it looks with her back bent severely, almost parallel to the ground. And she has learned to play the shot – she has a full allotment – instead of worrying about her score or her position on the leaderboard.

“I knew I could get better,” Wie said. “I knew I could improve. But that’s the game of golf. I think that’s what’s so fun about it. You work hard, you work hard, it’s a challenging game. You can never quite perfect it. I love working on my game. I love working on different shots. Just trying to get better every day. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive.”

Wie sets a standard in Women’s Open at Pinehurst

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — For all the interest in the men and women playing Pinehurst No. 2 in consecutive weeks, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson made the U.S. Women’s Open more closely resemble the first LPGA Tour major of the year.

Wie held it together with two key par putts and finished with back-to-back birdies for a 2-under 68. Thompson powered her way out of the sand and weeds and ran off three straight birdies to match Wie for the lowest score Friday.

They were the only players still under par going into the weekend, perhaps setting up a rematch from the first major of the year. Thompson soundly beat Wie in the final round at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

“Definitely too early,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Thirty-six holes in a major, that’s a lot of golf to be played, especially at a U.S. Women’s Open.”

For now, Wie had control with a three-shot lead.

The 24-year-old from Hawaii twice thought her shots were going off the turtleback greens, and twice she relied on her table-top putting stance to make long par saves. She finished with a 6-iron that set up a 12-foot birdie putt, and a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to reach 4-under 136.

“End of the day yesterday, I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice,” Wie said. “Finishing with two birdies is always great. It’s a grind out there. It’s not easy. Really grateful for the par putts that I made and some of the birdie putts that I made. I can’t complain. I’ll take it.”

Just when it looked as if this had the trappings of another runaway – Martin Kaymer led by at least four shots over the final 48 holes to win the U.S. Open – along came Thompson with a shot reminiscent of what Kaymer did last week.

From the sand and bushes left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole, Thompson blasted a 5-iron from 195 yards just off the green, setting up two putts for birdie from about 60 feet. Kaymer was in roughly the same spot in the third round when he hit 7-iron from 202 yards to 5 feet, that pin position more toward the front.

That was her third straight birdie, and she closed with four pars to reach 139.

Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills, with a brief shower in the middle of the afternoon that didn’t do much to soften a dry, crusty golf course.

Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who opened with a bogey-free 67, picked up a bogey on her first hole in a wild round of six bogeys, three birdies and a tough 73. A two-time major champion, she saw the big picture.

“I hung around, and that’s what you’ve got to do at this tournament,” said Lewis, at even-par with Amy Yang (69) and Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia who played bogey-free on the back nine to salvage a 71.

Lucy Li, the precocious 11-year-old and youngest qualifier in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open, isn’t leaving town until Monday. She just won’t be playing any more golf. The sixth-grader from the Bay Area started with a double bogey for the second straight day and shot another 78 to miss the cut.

The cut was 9-over 149.

No one was conceding anything to Wie or Thompson. What last week showed was a Pinehurst No. 2 that played about the same all four days, instead of some U.S. Opens where scores are thrown in reverse on the weekend. There’s still plenty of time for players to chip away at par, and equal opportunity to lose even more ground.

“When you think seven shots, you think that’s a lot,” Karrie Webb said after battling for a 73, leaving her seven shots behind. “But really at the U.S. Open, I don’t think that’s too far out.”

Na Yeon Choi had a 70 and was at 1-over 141, followed by a Paula Creamer (72) at 2-over 142. The group at 143 included Webb and So Yeon Ryu, who saved her hopes with three straight birdies on the front nine, and narrowly missing a fourth. All of them are former Women’s Open champions.

This is a different Wie they are chasing.

She is in contention on the weekend in her second straight major. The last time that happened was when she was 16 and had a chance in three of them. Wie already has won this year in Hawaii, and she has eight top 10s and is No. 2 on the LPGA money list.

Attribute that to a putting stroke that she owns, no matter how peculiar it looks with her back bent severely, almost parallel to the ground. And she has learned to play the shot – she has a full allotment – instead of worrying about her score or her position on the leaderboard.

“I think you look at the way Michelle has played the last six months and you look at her differently,” Lewis said. “I think she’s become one of the best ball-strikers on tour. She hits it really consistent. She knows where the ball’s going. And she’s figuring out how to win. That’s the big thing.”

Wie sets a standard in Women’s Open at Pinehurst

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie delivered the best comparison of all between the men and women at Pinehurst No. 2. She was threatening to turn this major into a runaway.

Wie made two big pars and closed with two birdies for a second straight 2-under 68, giving her a four-shot lead among those who played early Friday. In the afternoon, even with a brief shower, the field at the U.S. Women’s Open was in full retreat.

Late in the afternoon, Wie was at 4-under 136 and the only player under par.

“End of the day yesterday, I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice,” Wie said. “Finishing with two birdies is always great. It’s a grind out there. It’s not easy. Really grateful for the par putts that I made and some of the birdie putts that I made. I can’t complain. I’ll take it.”

Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills.

Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who opened with a 67, spent the afternoon trading birdies and bogeys, and bogeys were winning. She was 4 over for the day – 1 over for the championship – as she headed for the homestretch.

Lucy Li’s historic week as the youngest qualifier in the Women’s Open didn’t last long. She opened with a double bogey for the second straight day and wound up with another 78 to finish at 16-over par, well beyond the cut line.

The course was set up similar to the second round for the men last week, when Martin Kaymer set a U.S. Open record at 10-under 130 for a six-shot lead. He never let anyone get closer than four shots over the final 48 holes.

The tee was moved up on the par-4 third hole, playing 229 yards (it was 315 yards for the men). The par-5 10th was moved all the way back to 578 yards.

Wie had four birdies on the back nine to rally from a poor start in the opening round. Friday was far more steady. She opened with eight straight pars, then made birdie on the 18th hole from the sandy area by punching a gap wedge to about 15 feet.

More than the birdies were too key pars.

She went long on the 417-yard second hole and feared her chip would go off the front of the green. It barely stayed, and she made a 15-foot putt to escape. The panic set in on the par-3 sixth when she hit the front of the green and rapped her putt too strong. Most putts like that get past the hole and never stop until they run off the back of the turtleback green. This one stayed on the surface, and she knocked in a 25-footer for par.

“I had a couple of those today, which was really nice,” she said.

The only time she worried was on No. 8, the second-toughest at Pinehurst No. 2 in the second round.

She hit 3-wood off the tee on the 425-yard hole, and tried to hit a 6-iron short and right to avoid going left of the green, one of the worst spots to be on the course.

“I pulled it a little bit off that hill, and left is no good there,” Wie said. “I was thinking that could either be great or it could be disastrous. So both me and my caddie were having a little bit of a heart attack on that shot. It turned out great.”

She made a 12-footer for birdie, and then hit a cut pitching wedge from 124 yards on the par-3 ninth to 15 feet for a final birdie.

Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia, had a 71 and Amy Yang had a 69. They were at even-par 140.

The greatest testament to Wie is that having the lead at the U.S. Women’s Open lead is no longer a big surprise. She is hitting the ball clean and under control She has created her own putting stroke and his vastly improved.

Wie won the LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii and has seven other top 10s this year, including a runner-up finish to Lexi Thompson in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year. The last time Wie was a regular contender in the majors, she was 16.

“I knew I could get better,” Wie said. “I knew I could improve. But that’s the game of golf. I think that’s what’s so fun about it. You work hard, you work hard, it’s a challenging game. You can never quite perfect it. I love working on my game. I love working on different shots. Just trying to get better every day. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive.”

Wie sets a standard in Women’s Open at Pinehurst

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie birdied the last two holes Friday for a 2-under 68 and set a target for Stacy Lewis at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Wie already contended in the first major on the LPGA Tour this year. Those last two birdies put her at 4-under 136, one shot ahead of Lewis, who was to play in the afternoon.

Only two other players broke par from the morning groups. One was Amy Yang, who had a 69 and was at even-par 140. Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia, had a 71 and also was at 140.

Among those playing in the afternoon was 11-year-old Lucy Li, the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history. She opened with a 78 and probably needs par or better to make the cut.