The conclusion of two weeks of serious golf at Pinehurst is at hand, and the women are so close to making the most of their unusually prominent position. It’s up to one person now to bring it home.
Michelle Wie’s entire career, her entire life, has been building toward this moment. The U.S. Women’s Open is hers to lose, tied for the lead with Amy Yang at 2-under par, four strokes ahead of the field. And there has never been more on the line.
What a stage this has been for women’s golf, taking over Pinehurst’s No. 2 course immediately after Martin Kaymer finished running away with the men’s Open. The field, collectively, has met the challenge laid down by the men, showing women could handle the same diabolical course, albeit shorter and softer.
Lucy Li, the giggling 11-year-old with a very adult game, charmed her way around the course for two days before walking along with Wie and Lexi Thompson in the final pairing Saturday. Even Juli Inkster, 53, in her 35th and allegedly final Women’s Open, got into the act with the low round of the tournament Saturday, a 4-under 66 to join the group of four at 2 over.
The first three days couldn’t have been scripted any better to best capitalize on all the increased attention and promotion. All that’s left is for Wie, the most popular and famous player in women’s golf, to finish the job.
These historic circumstances demand a champion of equal stature. It’s almost as if Wie has been waiting for this very moment to finally break through and win her first major.
“This is exactly where I wanted to be,” Wie said. “That’s why I work hard, I want to be in positions like this. I want to be in the final pairing of the U.S. Open and it’s just great.”
She was on the verge of a rout of Kaymer-esque proportions before a four-hole disaster on the back nine opened the door to the rest of the field, Yang closing the gap while Thompson’s wheels came off like someone stole the lug nuts. Wie had a birdie on No. 10 that felt like it might have locked down the title, only to go double-par-bogey-bogey on the next four holes.
“Michelle Wie has put a few of us back in the tournament,” said 2001 winner Karrie Webb, five strokes back.
Nevertheless, it remains Wie’s tournament to win. Even Kaymer stumbled on Saturday, and Wie would have matched Yang’s 68 had she been able to make par over that dismal stretch. She has the power to fight through the native areas and continues to make par-saving putts despite the bent-over putting stroke of a 72-year-old with two fused vertebrae.
Wie has arrived at a good place in so many ways: mentally, physically, geographically. Her game fits Pinehurst. Her swing is dialed in. And she did her homework like she still was at Stanford, getting yardage books from Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley and their caddies to study. She’s 24. She’s ready. It’s her time.
Wie winning at Pinehurst, under these circumstances, could be the female equivalent of Payne Stewart’s win there in 1999: unforgettable. It has been four years since an American won the U.S. Open. Wie doesn’t need to be told.
“As an American, I just feel very proud that I’m in contention,” Wie said. “I will play with pride (Sunday). And I’m going to have fun.”
Nothing against Yang – a cheerful South Korean who has never won in North America and like Wie also is 24, also lives in Orlando, Fla., and also travels with her dog – but if there ever was a time for a homegrown winner, and for that winner to be Wie, this is it.