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Tied at the top

    Michelle Wie reacted to a missed putt on the 16th hole Saturday in Pinehurst, N.C.
    Michelle Wie sank a putt on the third hole during the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open on Saturday.

PINEHURST, N.C. » People flocked to Lucy Li like kids to the neighborhood ice cream truck during the first two rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open. Michelle Wie, the 36-hole leader, was fine with that.

The attention paid Li, the 11-year-old prodigy, played perfectly into Wie’s strategy to concentrate on the task at hand. It can be hard for Wie, a one-time wunderkind, to focus on the present when her past precedes her into any interview.

A fixture on the USGA scene since qualifying for the Women’s Amateur at age 10, the 24-year-old Wie tends to get asked more about what she has done, or failed to do, than where her game is headed.

Hailed as the LPGA’s answer to Tiger Woods since playing in the final group on the final day of a major as a giggly, gangly 13-year-old, a wiser, more worldly Wie is 18 holes from the major title that has eluded her in 37 starts.

Three strokes ahead of Lexi Thompson at Saturday’s start, Wie carded a 2-over-par 72 at Pinehurst No. 2 for a share of the lead, at 2-under 208, with South Korea’s Amy Yang, who posted a 68. In 2005 and 2006, Wie also went into the final round as the co-leader. She finished tied for 23rd in 2005 and tied for third the next year.

"When I was 15 and 16, I think kind of the troubles that I came into when I was younger is that I tried to plan my life," Wie said. "And a lot of times, things don’t happen the way they should, or the way they should in my mind. So I’m just kind of going out there living it day by day."

Third-round leaderboard

6,649-yard, par-70 Pinehurst No. 2

Amy Yang 71-69-68 208
Michelle Wie 68-68-72 208
Juli Inkster 71-75-66 212
Stephanie Meadow 71-72-69 212
Na Yeon Choi 71-70-71 212
a-Minjee Lee 69-71-72 212

After Li missed the cut with consecutive rounds of 78, the spotlight moved from the youngest player in the field to the oldest, 53-year-old Juli Inkster. With a 4-under 66, the lowest round of the week, Inkster vaulted into a tie for third at 2-over 212.

"I played very smart and I played good," said Inkster, a two-time champion who last broke 70 in the event in 2003.

Inkster is making her 35th start in this tournament. She is adamant that it will be her last, even if she earns an exemption into next year’s event.

"I’m good with it," she said. "I’m totally fine."

Inkster, who has competed against phenoms ranging from Nancy Lopez to Lydia Ko, was happy to see Wie playing so well. In her past seven starts, Wie has six top-10 finishes, including a victory in her native Hawaii and a second in the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"I think it’s great for our game," Inkster said. "Because again, the media, our fan base, they know Michelle Wie, and when she’s in contention, our ratings go up."

Those following Wie on Saturday included Li, who observed from inside the dream final pairing of Wie and Thompson. They played together in the final group for the final round at the Kraft Nabisco, which Thompson won.

Wie versus Thompson is like Rory McIlroy against Rickie Fowler, a made-for-TV show that hasn’t materialized this year on the PGA Tour. Thompson, who started the day three strokes back, birdied two of the first five holes to pull within a stroke of Wie, who opened with a bogey.

But the drama fizzled when Thompson made double bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9. She posted a 74 to fall into a five-way tie for seventh at 4 over.

Thompson, 19, was one of eight teenagers to make the cut. Among the others was Minjee Lee, an 18-year-old amateur from Australia, who was tied with Inkster after a third-round 72.

Lee met Inkster on Tuesday night at the past champions dinner, which Lee attended as the guest of Karrie Webb. For Lee and others, it was a tossup as to which of Inkster’s numbers was more mind-boggling, 53 or 66.

"It’s pretty amazing to have 66 around here," said Lee, who required no introduction to Wie. Lee said she first heard of Wie roughly eight years ago, after Lee took up the sport.

"She was like really, really good, and she was on Tour and all that," Lee said. "And she played with the guys, and that’s when I first heard about her."

To this point, the book on Wie is she contended in majors as a teenager, played a handful of events on the PGA Tour and attended Stanford, where she earned a degree in communications. On Sunday, she has a chance to close the book on her past for good.

"I can’t look forward," Wie said. "I’m going to focus on every single shot."

She added, "I’m going to have fun tomorrow and see what happens."

Karen Crouse, New York Times


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