The First at No. 2
This week it would be the women’s edition of the U.S. Open at fabled Pinehurst No. 2 as they followed the men who played there last week. It is the first time in history that the Men’s and Women’s Opens have been played on consecutive weeks on the same course.
For the first two rounds it seemed that history was repeating itself as Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson were the only two players under par in glaring resemblance to the year’s first Major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship when Wie would lead Thompson at the halfway mark http://www.birdgolf.com/lexi-remember/
Both players shot the days’ best 2-under par in the 2nd round. Wie’s 68 matched her first round and gave her a 3 shot lead at 4-under par for the tournament while Thompson was at 1-under par at the halfway mark after opening with a 1-over par 71 in the first round.
There were 3 players a further shot behind Thompson at even par including first round leader and the World’s #1 ranked player, Stacy Lewis, who joined her opening round 3-under par 70 with a round two score of 3-over par 73.
No. 2 had dried out considerably in the past few days which are why the scores this week were higher than the men’s last week (in last week’s men’s event there were 19 players at par or better after 36-holes). Reinforcing that statistic was that the cut-line to play on the weekend was 9-over par for the ladies as opposed to 5-over par last week for the men. These are the conditions and scores that the USGA much prefers to have players shooting when competing in the nation’s oldest Championships.
One of those players missing the cut was 11 year old qualifier, Lucy Li, who put together very respectable rounds of 78 and 78 to finish 7 shots over the cut line at 16-over par. Li was surely the favorite of both fans and media during the week which included her doing a press conference while eating an ice cream cone.
Saturday’s 3rd round would be a reversal of what happened at the Kraft Nabisco where Thompson would pull ahead of Wie and take command of that event. At Pinehurst, 19 year old Thompson would be undone by back-to-back double bogies on the 8th and 9th holes en route to a 4-over par 74 that thrust her into the role of pursuer and at 3-over for the Championship.
Wie was the steadier of the two but made her own costly mistakes as she played holes 11-14 in 4-over par to surrender her sizeable lead. Wie ended the day with a 2-over par 72 and tied for the lead with South Korea’s Amy Yang whose 2-under par 68 put her at 2-under for the tournament and in Sunday’s final pairing with Wie.
The story on Saturday went from an 11 year old to a 53 year old, as Hall of Famer, Juli Inkster, fired the best round of the week, a 4-under par 66. That would vault the veteran into contention for her 8th Major Championship at 2-over par heading into Sunday’s finale.
Four early bogies would eliminate Yang from contention at the outset of Sunday’s final round. Wie missed a short par putt on the first hole before reeling off a string of 8 steady pars to be at 1-under par as she headed to the par-5 10th hole.
That gave the 24 year old Hawaiian a one shot lead over a fast charging Stacy Lewis who was peppering No. 2 with a barrage of birdies as she closed the gap on Wie to stand at even par as she teed off on the 14th hole.
Wie then made a superb eagle-3 on the par-5 10th hole, which coupled with a Lewis bogey would mean that Wie’s lead had been extended to 4 and leave her very much in command. But this is the U.S. Open and venerable No. 2 has a back 9 laced with an opportunity for disaster on almost every hole.
Lewis would make another bogey on the brutally difficult par- 4 16th before birdieing the final 2 holes to record and match Inkster’s week-best score of 4-under par 66 and card an even par score for the week. Lewis’ brilliant closing round would include an amazing 8 birdies and the lead in the clubhouse, but with Wie at 3-under with her final 3 holes to play, ‘‘the Big Wiesy” was still in control of her own destiny.
And then the disaster that lurks at every turn at No. 2, struck. Wie’s wayward approach shot to the 16th hole sailed into a clump of grass in the waste area that guards the front part of the green. After taking an unplayable lie and the accompanying 1-shot penalty, Wie conservatively played her 4th shot to 24 feet left of the hole.
An aggressive first putt would mean that Wie would have to make a clutch 6 foot putt for a double bogey-6 to maintain a 1 shot lead over Lewis. Rising to the occasion, Wie calmly rolled in that putt and bounced immediately back with a birdie-2 on the par-3 17th, giving her a 2 shot cushion with only the last hole to play.
A textbook par-4 on the final hole meant that Wie had won her first Major Championship and in doing so, had become the 69th winner of the Women’s U.S. Open.
2014 has already been a breakthrough campaign for Wie combining her 3rd career victory earlier in the year in her home state of Hawaii, with 8 Top 10 finishes in the first 12 LPGA Tour events. It may very well mean that the once upon a time “can’t-miss” prodigy for whom such greatness had been forecast was finally ready to fulfill that promise. If so, it could be the dawn of a golden era in Women’s golf with the ascendancy of a host of superb young players taking center stage with Wie cast in a starring role.
For the last two weeks, No. 2 gave us two sensational performances and two wins that are certain to become golf lore.