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Stage is set for Wie at U.S. Women's Open golf championship

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PINEHURST, NC – This is what fans of U.S. women’s golf have been waiting for since Michelle Wie first took off the training wheels.

The woman who has spent a career trying to match unrealistic expectations is on top of the leaderboard after two rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open on famed No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort.

A pair of 68s has her at four-under-par, three shots ahead of star-on-the-rise Lexi Thompson, the only other player under par at 139. First-round leader Stacy Lewis fell back to even par 140 with a 73, equaling the scores of fellow pro Amy Yang and amateur Minjee Lee.

Wie’s career has not skyrocketed like many thought it would when she burst on the scene 10 years ago. She has contended before in majors, and has a third-place finish in the Open.

Never before, however, has the stage been this set for a command performance. The 24-year-old seems to have matured into a true major championship contender.

“I think I went through a phase where I was too aggressive,” said Wie. “I think I went through a phase where I was maybe not aggressive enough. And I think I've learned from both situations. I think, hopefully, being a little bit older, I'm a little bit wiser, probably not the case, but hopefully that's the case. I think I'm just learning with situations, the risk/reward, just kind of thinking it through. I think my caddie is doing a really good job of kind of talking me through it, walking me through, as well, too. And I think we're both learning.”

How big has the learning curve been? This weekend should tell that answer as Wie, in the midst of her best season on the LPGA Tour, attempts to capture the most important title she will ever win – her first major.

THE BIGGER THEY ARE…

Some of the women’s game’s biggest stars checked out early, missing the cut of 9-over 149. That list included: Christie Kerr (76-74), Morgan Pressel (77-75), Jessica Korda (79-72), Anna Nordqvist (73-78) and Natalie Gulbis (79-77).

GENERATION GAP

Maybe the warmest story of this hot Open thus far was the play and personality of 11-year-old Lucy Li, the youngest-ever US Women’s Open competitor. Never mind that the California Kid turned in a pair of 78s. It was how she did it, delighting the large galleries that followed her every move. She handled herself with poise, even when the big numbers came. And she never stopped having fun.

“You have to be patient. That's what I learned (this week),” said Li. “Definitely. I did a good job of that this week and it really helped because I got triples and I came back with birdies. That's what's really important.”

Asked if her friends back home had contacted her, she said “I've got some e-mails. They have been really excited. They're like, 'Oh, you're famous now.'”

On the other end of the spectrum is another famous person, and for quite some time. Julie Inkster became the oldest woman in 20 years to make the cut at a U.S. Women’s Open. The 53-year-old shot 71-75-146.

VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM

Everyone pays attention to the top of the leaderboard, but there are always some fascinating numbers at the bottom.

Take, for instance, Irene Coe, an LPGA Tour player and former All-American at the University of Southern Cal. She began her U.S. Open on the back nine on Thursday, and did not make her first par until No. 1, her 10th hole. She was five-over after four holes, then finished the nine with three bogeys and two birdies for 41. She shot 81 and missed the cut after following with an 80.

Or Xyra Suyetsugu, a 27-year-old qualifier from Hawaii. Hundreds of thousands of Saturday morning hackers around the world could truly identify with her opening round. She only made three pars during a round of 88 that included 12 bogeys and three double-bogeys.

Or 24-year-old rising star Brook Pancake, who buried any chance of making the cut on Friday when she make a quad 7 on the par 3 15, adding an 81 to her first round 75.

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