U.S. Women’s Open Championship
Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2
Village of Pinehurst, N.C.
June 21, 2014
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Rolex Rankings No. 11 Michelle Wie (-2)
Rolex Rankings No. 20 Amy Yang (-2)
Rolex Rankings No. 168 Juli Inkster (+2)
Rolex Rankings No. 601 Stephanie Meadow (+2)
Amateur Minjee Lee (+2)
A pair of 24-year-olds, Michelle Wie and Amy Yang, share the third-round lead at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA. Yang fired a 2-under 68 and Wie shot a 2-over 72 to sit tied atop the leaderboard after 54 holes at Pinehurst No. 2. They lead by four shots over a group of four players including LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Juli Inkster, who will turn 54 on Tuesday, and top-ranked amateur Minjee Lee.
Wie started the day three shots clear of the field but saw her lead to shrink to just one shot after bogeying No. 1 and playing partner Lexi Thompson birdied Nos. 3 and 5. But Thompson’s good fortune was short lived. She would double bogey both the 8th and 9th holes after watching shots on the sloping fringe on both holes fail to reach the green and roll half-way back to her original spot. She saw a five-stroke-swing in two holes after Wie sank an eight-foot birdie putt on the par-3 9th hole.
Then before anyone saw her coming, South Korea’s Amy Yang played her way into the picture on Saturday. After Wie extended her lead to four shots with a birdie on No. 10, she opened the door to Yang with some untimely mistakes on the back nine and said the heat started to settle on her.
“The front nine was great,” said Wie. “I just didn’t drive it well in a couple of holes on the back nine. It’s hot out there, I think I need to maybe warn up a little less tomorrow, because I felt like I was really tired. But I made the turn and felt really tired out there.”
Yang carded her sixth and final birdie of the day to cut the lead to three shots on No. 12 and pared the next five holes.
“I played really solid,” said Yang. “My shots were better the last two days, and I had really good speed on the greens. Just very good today.”
Wie double bogeyed the 11th hole after hitting her tee shot in the pine needles and followed up with a bogey on No. 12 to fall into a tie with Yang at 3-under par. She would lose the lead for the first time all day with another bogey on the 14th hole.
“It’s definitely a grind, it’s not an easy golf course,” said Wie of her back-nine struggles. “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.”
Yang would bogey the 18th hole to drop back into a tie for the lead and will play in the final group on Sunday with Wie, who has now held the 54-hold lead at the U.S. Women’s Open three times. Yang has played well down the stretch at the Open and has recorded three top-10 finishes in her last three starts including a runner-up in 2010. She said she’ll try to work on using her past experiences on the big stage to push her to her first major win.
“Still working on it, but I’m much better at controlling my emotion and controlling the nervous feeling,” said Yang. “I think it’s going to be a fun round. I’m also good friends with Michelle, so I think it’s going to be a good round.”
Wie and Yang’s pursuers include a dynamic group that includes a Hall of Famer, a past champion, a player making her pro debut and an amateur. Juli Inkster, Na Yeon Choi, Stephanie Meadow and Minjee Lee are all tied for third and sit four shots off the lead with 18 holes to play. If Inkster were able to clinch her third U.S. Women’s Open victory here at Pinehurst, it will only seem fitting to make history in a place with such an historic setting. Inkster, at 53 years of age and a birthday coming up on Tuesday, would become the oldest major champion in history and oldest winner on Tour.
“You can think and you can dream all you want, but the bottom line is you’ve got to come out and make the shots,” said Inkster. “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.”
A LITTLE TOUCH OF FATE?
Last Saturday Amy Yang drove to Pinehurst from her home in Orlando, Fla. with her parents and her dog, Bori. But before they hit the road, Yang played one last practice round on Friday at Orange Tree Golf Club where she is a member. It’s the same golf club where Payne Stewart played right before he won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
A nice coincidence? Yang certainly would hope so as she seeks to capture her first major championship victory. The 24-year-old shares the lead with Michelle Wie entering the final round of the 69th U.S. Women’s Open and will be paired with Wie in the final group of the day.
It’s not the first time that Yang has been in the final pairing at the U.S. Women’s Open. She was paired with Paula Creamer at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont, which Creamer went on to win. This time, though, Yang is feeling good about the state of her game.
“I played really solid,” Yang said of her 68 on Saturday. “My shots were better the last two days, and I had really good speed on the greens. Just very good today.”
Yang recently took what she called a mental break from the game. Feeling a little tired of Tour life, Yang didn’t play the three LPGA events that followed the Kingsmill Championship last month. She instead went home to Orlando and focused just on practicing her game in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Women’s Open. She wanted to make sure she was refreshed for this national championship and based on Yang shooting 71-69-68 to put her in a tie for the third round lead, it would appear that’s the case.
WHO ARE YOU?
One thing that Amy Yang has heard often throughout her career on the LPGA Tour is her resemblance to the legendary Se Ri Pak. Yang was just 8 years old when Pak won her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and started what became a revolution of women’s golf in South Korea.
So being compared to Pak in any way is something that doesn’t bother Yang a bit. She joked that the resemblance even caused Pak’s caddie a little confusion at one tournament during her first full season on the LPGA Tour in 2009.
“I was at Kingmill in front of the clubhouse and I was walking up from the range and Se Ri’s caddie was standing by the putting green,” Yang said. “I guess he thought I was Se Ri and he started following me with her bag. Everyone laughed so hard. I can’t forget that.”
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
Juli Inkster said earlier in the week that this will likely be her final U.S. Women’s Open. But Inkster, who will turn 54 on Tuesday, might want to rethink that decision based upon her play in Saturday’s third round.
The low round of the week on Pinehurst No. 2 belongs to the oldest player in the field, as Inkster fired a 4-under 66 to move into a tie for third at 2-over-par.
Inkster will begin the final round four shots back of co-leaders Michelle Wie and Amy Yang but certainly with a strong chance to be in contention during Sunday’s final round.
“It’s great. I’m going to be right in the mix,” Inkster said. “Let’s just say I’m in a lot better shape today than I was yesterday. I knew I had to come out here, if I wanted to do anything, and have a good round and I was able to put it together today. So who knows tomorrow. I’m just going to enjoy it. It’s a great golf course, so enjoy the walk.”
Inkster’s performance on Saturday was a glimpse back at the impressive golf that she has displayed so often throughout her Hall of Fame career. A top-10 finish at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open would earn Inkster a spot in next year’s field. Still, Inkster seems content to make this her final go-around at the national championship.
“I think 35 is a nice solid number,” Inkster said of her record number of appearances in the U.S. Women’s Open. “It’s a good number to go out on.”
But wouldn’t it be nice to see the 2-time U.S. Women’s Open winner add one more trophy to her impressive resume? After all everyone likes to see legends go out on top.
A CHANCE AT HISTORY?
Oldest winners in LPGA history
Beth Daniel, 2003 BMO Financial Group Canadian Women’s Open at 46 years, 8 months, 29 days
JoAnne Carner, 1985 SAFECO Classic at 46 years, 5 months, 11 days
Betsy King, 2001 LPGA Corning Classic at 45 years, 10 months, 18 days
Oldest players to win a major on the LPGA Tour
Fay Crocker, 1960 Titleholders Championship at 45 years, 7 months, 11 days
Sherri Steinhauer, 2006 Weetabix Women’s British Open at 43 years, 7 months, 10 days
Babe Zaharias, 1954 U.S. Women’s Open at 43 years, 7 days
Juli Inkster, 2002 U.S. Women’s Open at 42 years, 13 days
HIGH COMPANY INSPIRATION
Minjeee Lee came into her first U.S. Women’s Open with no expectations and no nerves to hold her back. The 18-year old from Perth, Australia kept herself in contention to become only the second amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open after she shot a 2-over 72 on Saturday. She’s sits in a tie for third with two past Open winners Juli Inkster and Na Yeon Choi and recently turned pro Stephanie Meadow.
Lee has drawn some inspiration after meeting a collection of past champions of the event at a dinner function when she attended as two-time winner Karrie Webb’s guest. She said she met Catherine Lacoste, the only woman to win the championship as an amateur when she did in 1967.
“After dinner, they kind of went -- everyone spoke and told us about what’s their best moment of winning an Open,” said Lee. “So that was pretty inspirational.”
Lee said earlier in the week her nerves on golf’s biggest stage have yet to be rattled and said her ability to stay in the moment and to keep her emotions in check have helped her play so well at Pinehurst No. 2. If Lee doesn’t end up with the victory at the end of the day on Sunday, she could have another title under her name. Lee won low amateur honors at the Tour’s first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and could go 2-2 as the low am with a solid round on Sunday.
“I’ve been in this position, but not in a big tournament like this, obviously,” said Lee. “Yeah, I think it will be different and I’ll just try my best.”
Stephanie Meadow turned professional just the Sunday before the start of the U.S. Women’s Open and almost didn’t have the opportunity to make her professional debut on one of golf’s biggest stages. She was an alternate after finishing sectional qualifying five strokes behind medalist Marissa Chow and two strokes behind Tzu-Chi Lin. But Meadow was awarded a spot in the field after spots held for exempt players were returned to the qualifying field.
“I was first alternate and then I waited probably three weeks when we were at a training camp for Curtis Cup the week before in Atlanta,” said Meadow. “And I got a phone call and it said from New Jersey, and I’m thinking, okay, this is the USGA. And I’m thinking, please don’t be about Curtis Cup, please be about U.S. Open. To start my professional career here is so amazing. I’m so blessed that it happened. It’s awesome.”
Meadow is making her second U.S. Women’s Open appearance this week and missed the cut in her first in 2012 at Blackwolf Run as an amateur. And now, as a pro, she’s contending after rounds of 71-72-69. She’s four shots off the lead with 18 holes to play.
“I didn’t really have expectations, I just wanted to go out and see where I was,” said Meadow. “I knew I was playing well. I work with Vision 54 and my coach, Nick Potter, and my dad, who is also my coach, we all talked about what I wanted to do and the main thing was just be myself and play my game and I knew that my game could be up here against the best in the world and I’ve proven that, obviously.”
She’s not only proven she can play on the big stage but has also embraced all that comes with it.
“It’s awesome,” said Meadow. “I love playing for the crowd. The crowd has been great out here, very supportive. It’s nice to hear cheers when you make putts. It’s just fun. I love playing golf. I love to be out here and this is the stage to do it in.”
Asked if she could have written up a better start to her professional career, Meadow quipped that it’s been beyond her own imagination.
“No, you couldn’t dream of a better start,” she said.