PINEHURST, NC – Observations from Round 3 of the U.S. Women's Open golf championship.
A pair of 24-year-olds looking for their first major championship will tee off Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open hoping recent near misses will provide the experience needed to boost them over the top.
Michelle Wie and Amy Yang will be in the final pairing as the only two golfers under par after three rounds on the challenging Pinehurst No. 2. They took different paths getting there. Wie, who led by three strokes after Friday, shot a two-over-par 72 to reach her two-under total of 208. Yang enters the final round on a more positive note, having shot 68 on Saturday. It wasn’t however, your average 68.
The Korean, playing in the next-to-last group and starting four back of Wie, did not make her first par until the eighth hole, recording four birdies and three bogeys. She then found her tempo and shot 34 on the back.
“I kind of started up-and-down, but later towards the back nine I was hitting the ball much more solid,” said Yang. “ I think I putted really well, too. I’m really happy about my round today.”
Wie continued her stellar play on the front nine Saturday, reaching six-under with a birdie on 9. But she snap-hooked her tee shot deep into the pines on 11 and made double, then struggled after that, though she did finish with four pars.
"My swing definitely got away from me for a little bit,” said Wie. “Tempo was a little bit off. I hit one left and next one I hit one right. But I just kind of went out on 13 and talked to my caddie and I was like, just start over, just focus on what I focused on on the front nine. And, yeah, the swing felt really great coming in.”
THE ROSS EFFECT
Lexi Thompson had moved within one shot of Wie with a birdie on the fifth, but she got Donald Ross-ed on the eighth and ninth holes, all but burying her chances of winning her first U.S. Open title.
On the eighth she pulled her short iron left of the turtleback green, then watched in horror as her chip shot peaked at the green, then rolled back to her. She switched to putter and rolled it through the green. She did get that up-and-down to save double bogey, but the deed was done.
On her next swing she blew her tee shot over the green into a free-drop area. Her drop landed in a divot, from which she tried to putt but left it short of the green. Two putts later she carded her second straight double.
Thompson ended up with a 74 and a three-over-par total, tied for seventh.
BACK IN TIME
The field’s oldest player showed she still has game, and positioned herself to at least make the leaders take notice on Sunday. Two-time Open champion Julie Inkster, 53, shot the lowest round of the tournament Saturday morning, 66, to race into the top 10. Her round included five birdies and a lone bogey on the difficult eighth.
At the close of the day she stood at 212, two-over and tied for third, four behind.
“You can think about it all you want, but the bottom line is you've got to come out and make the shots,” said Inkster about her chances of making history on Sunday. “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.”
THE ULTIMATE SKIN
Here’s one for all you “Saturday Skins Game” players out there. Through two rounds of the Women’s Open, only one hole – the par 4 7th during Thursday’s first round – did not yield a birdie.
Pretend this was a giant skins game competition. In a field of 154 players, at $20 a head, had one player made birdie she would have pocketed a $3,080 skin.
PIN PLACEMENT 101
Back to No. 7, a dogleg right that played 389 yards on Thursday and Friday. The USGA cut a maniacal back-right pin for the first round, and the hole had the highest scoring average of the day by far – 4.641. The turtleback green slopes severely from back to front, and drops dramatically to a deep bunker on the right.
The following day the USGA made up for it, serving a hot-fudge-sundae for most of the players with a front-left pin. The result? The third easiest hole, playing a half-shot better than Thursday, and 26 birdies versus zero the day before.