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Wie by 3

Grinding her way through the second day, Michelle Wie puts up another 68 to lead the U.S. Women’s Open

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:21 a.m. HST, Jun 21, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. » Michelle Wie is becoming a regular contender in major championships, only now as an adult.

She captivated women’s golf as a teenager, contending in three straight LPGA Tour majors when she was 16. That was when she still was trying to compete against the men, when she didn’t always look as if she was having fun and before injuries and criticism were a big part of her growing pains.

On another tough day at Pinehurst No. 2, the 24-year-old from Hawaii held it together Friday with two key par putts and finished with back-to-back birdies for a 2-under 68, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I think you look at the way Michelle has played the last six months and you look at her differently,” said Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who was four shots out of the lead. “I think she’s become one of the best ball-strikers on tour. She hits it really consistent. She knows where the ball’s going. And she’s figuring out how to win. That’s the big thing.”

But there’s a familiar name, and another teen prodigy, who joined Wie as the only players still under par.

Lexi Thompson, who soundly beat Wie in the final round to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship for her first major title, powered her way out of the sand and weeds, running off three straight birdies to match Wie’s 68, the low score Friday.

For all the interest in the men and women playing Pinehurst No. 2 in successive weeks, Wie and Thompson made the Women’s Open more closely resemble the first LPGA major. Is it too early to start thinking rematch?

“Definitely too early,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Thirty-six holes in a major, that’s a lot of golf to be played, especially at a U.S. Women’s Open.”

For now, Wie has control. Her three-shot lead is the largest through 36 holes in the Women’s Open in 11 years.

She twice thought her shots were going off the turtleback greens, and twice she relied on her table-top putting stance to make long par saves. She finished with a 6-iron that set up a 

12-foot birdie putt, and a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to reach 4-under 136.

“End of the day yesterday, I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice,” Wie said. “Finishing with two birdies is always great. It’s a grind out there. It’s not easy. Really grateful for the par putts that I made and some of the birdie putts that I made. I can’t complain. I’ll take it.”

Just when it looked as if this had the trappings of another runaway — Martin Kaymer led by at least four shots over the final 48 holes to win the U.S. Open — along came Thompson with a shot reminiscent of what Kaymer did last week.

From the sand and bushes left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole, Thompson blasted a 5-iron from 195 yards just off the green, setting up two putts for birdie from about 60 feet. Kaymer was in roughly the same spot in the third round when he hit 7-iron from 202 yards to 5 feet, that pin position more toward the front.

That was her third straight birdie, and she closed with four pars to reach 139.

Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills, with a brief shower in the middle of the afternoon that didn’t do much to soften a dry, crusty golf course.

Lewis, who opened with a bogey-free 67, picked up a bogey on her first hole in a wild round of six bogeys, three birdies and a tough 73. Even so, the two-time major champion managed to see the big picture.

“I hung around, and that’s what you’ve got to do at this tournament,” said Lewis, at even-par with Amy Yang (69) and Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia who played bogey-free on the back nine to salvage a 71.

Lucy Li, the precocious 11-year-old and youngest qualifier in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open, isn’t leaving town until Monday. She just won’t be playing any more golf. The sixth-grader from the Bay Area started with a double bogey for the second straight day and shot another 78 to miss the cut by seven shots. 

The cut was 9-over 149.

Na Yeon Choi had a 70 and was at 1-over 141, followed by a Paula Creamer (72) at 2-over 142. The group at 143 included Karrie Webb (73) and So Yeon Ryu (74), who saved her hopes with three straight birdies on the front nine, and narrowly missing a fourth. All of them are former Women’s Open champions.

This is a different Wie they are chasing. She already has won this year in Hawaii, and she has eight top 10s and is No. 2 on the LPGA money list.

Attribute that to a putting stroke that she owns, no matter how peculiar it looks with her back bent severely, almost parallel to the ground. And she has learned to play the shot — she has a full allotment — instead of worrying about her score or her position on the leaderboard.

“I knew I could get better,” Wie said. “I knew I could improve. But that’s the game of golf. I think that’s what’s so fun about it. You work hard, you work hard, it’s a challenging game. You can never quite perfect it. I love working on my game. I love working on different shots. Just trying to get better every day. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive.”

Michelle Wie 68-68 — 136
Lexi Thompson 71-68 — 139
a-Minjee Lee 69-71 — 140
Amy Yang 71-69 — 140
Stacy Lewis 67-73 — 140
Na Yeon Choi 71-70 — 141

 Doug Ferguson, Associated Press

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serious wrote:
I can see the Nike commercials already---Li and Wie!!! Both gals really put some interest in the sport. I, who remember when women were not allowed to play on the weekends!!!
on June 21,2014 | 04:49AM
niimi wrote:
Where is fiveo? Wie has 8 top tens this year in 12 starts, no worst than 23rd, 1 victory, a 2nd in the year's first major, now 4 shots clear in the 3rd round of the 2nd major, and the year is half over. 2nd in PoY points, 1st in scoring average, 1st in greens in reg. Her putting rank went from 60th to inside the top 30. Wie is a woman on a mission right now.
on June 21,2014 | 10:14AM
Anonymous wrote:
Boy, now that all the haters gotta suck thumb and find something else to hate, these comment areas are empty. Shows you how few believed. Must feel like getting busted by Grandma when you're a hater and things go wrong for you.
on June 21,2014 | 11:23AM
kiragirl wrote:
If she wins, the floodgate will open and there will be no stopping her. Her confidence must be high but until that major victory, there is doubt. May she have the good bounces this weekend.
on June 21,2014 | 06:52AM
cojef wrote:
She could use a few good bounces. Tenacity to win, hope she can come through and finish strong on Sunday. "Go git it"!
on June 21,2014 | 07:53AM
niimi wrote:
3rd round through 9 she is 1 under playing steady. She leads the entire LPGA in green in reg., and it is showing on a tough Pinehurst course where grinding out a steady score is necessary.
on June 21,2014 | 10:05AM
niimi wrote:
fiveo is gonno. Wie is doing well. When you have no missed cuts in a year that is half over, 8 top tens, a victory, 2nd in the first major and 4 shots clear in the 3rd round of the 2nd major I'd say that any naysaying is being tuned in to reality.
on June 21,2014 | 10:12AM
Anonymous wrote:
Lexi is the driving distance leader and only because Michelle's driver is in the bag a lot of times. Michelle seems to be about 5 yds longer than Lexi as shown today in the 3rd round. Michelle didn't putt well today (34 putts) as she did in her first two rounds (28 & 27 putts) and needs to putt better tomorrow in the final round to win. Michelle is doing well this year as she has worked herself up to be ranked No. 4 in putting. Gotta putt to win.
on June 21,2014 | 12:05PM