Michelle Wie hangs on by a thread
PINEHURST, N.C. -- If there was a sound effect to accompany Saturday's wacky third round of the U.S. Women's Open, it would be that alarming "beep, beep, beep" that signals a truck backing up.
It had looked for a while as if Michelle Wie would go all Martin Kaymer on the field, as she got as low as 6 under. But then she put it in reverse, playing the back nine at 3-over par. Pinehurst No. 2 can do that to you.
Nevertheless, Wie is still hanging on to the lead going into the final round, albeit sharing it with South Korea's Amy Yang at 2-under 208. And behind them? That gets really interesting.
Tied for third at 2-over 212 are two past U.S. Women's Open champions (Juli Inkster and Na Yeon Choi), a player in her first tournament as a pro (Stephanie Meadow) and a teenager from Australia who is the top-ranked amateur in the world (Minjee Lee).
Then there's a five-way tie for seventh place at 213 that includes two other past champions of this event (Karrie Webb and So Yeon Ryu) and the winner of the year's first major (Lexi Thompson).
Does that about cover all possible bases of competitors on the LPGA Tour? Yep, and the leaderboard is now scrunched-up enough that darn near anything could happen Sunday.
So at least in the final-round drama department, this is a lot different from a week ago at the U.S. Open. Then, Kaymer metronomed his way around Pinehurst to a 69 that gave him an eight-shot victory. It was magnificent in its skill display but a little low on the excitement factor.
That should not be the case Sunday because there are so many possibilities.
• Inkster, who will celebrate her 54th birthday Tuesday, could become the oldest U.S. Women's Open champion in history and have the AARP crowd dancing in the streets. Take that, all you Lucy Li-empowered 11-year-olds!
• The Aussie Lee -- who is of Korean heritage but was born in Perth -- could become just the second amateur to win; Catherine Lacoste did it in 1967.
• Meadow, who is from Belfast, could become the first woman from Northern Ireland or Ireland to win any LPGA event.
• Thompson, whose round Saturday went south with double bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9, could rally and add the second major of the season to her Kraft Nabisco Championship from April. Thompson was steaming mad about her 4-over 74, but the reality is she's still in this tournament.
• World No. 1 Stacy Lewis is tied for 12th, six shots back of the lead after a 74. But she's not totally out of the picture if she can recapture her success of the first round -- an "easy" 67.
• Yang, a 24-year-old with all kinds of talent but only one LPGA victory, could extend the Korean success streak at the U.S Women's Open. Players from South Korea have won the past three titles in this tournament, and five of the past six.
• And then there's Wie, who is seeking her first major title and will be playing in the final pairing with Yang.
It's not that Wie played badly on Saturday. In fact, she showed the maturity that she has developed by bouncing back after a bad stretch. She had a double bogey on No. 11 and then bogeys on Nos. 12 and 14. But rather than leak oil all the way to the finish, Wie got herself together.
"My swing definitely got away from me for a little bit," Wie said. "Tempo was a little bit off. But I just kind of went out on 13 and talked to my caddie. And I was like, 'Just start over.' Focus on what I focused on on the front nine. And, yeah, [my] swing felt really great coming in."
Wie was tied for the lead going into Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco and felt so excited the night before the final round that she couldn't sleep well. She realized then that this was exactly the way she wanted to feel about her golf game. She just had to relax about being in contention.
Wie ended up finishing second to Thompson and learned a little more about how to handle being in the lead. She hopes to put that experience to use Sunday as she tries to successfully navigate Pinehurst No. 2 once more.
Yes, because of a couple of rough holes on the back nine Saturday, she opened the door to a few more competitors. But there's a better way for Wie to look at what happened: She's still in the lead. She understands what it takes to close the deal.
"I think I'm better prepared," Wie said. "I know what to expect and how to handle situations. When I practice, I try to create situations like this. Obviously, it's completely different. But I'm just really excited. I'm grateful for another opportunity, and that's really all I can ask for."