PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie delivered the best comparison of all between the men and women at Pinehurst No. 2. She was threatening to turn this major into a runaway.
Wie made two big pars and closed with two birdies for a second straight 2-under 68, giving her a three-shot lead among those who played early Friday. In the afternoon, even with a brief shower, the field at the U.S. Women’s Open was in full retreat.
Lexi Thompson trails Wie by three shots.
Late in the afternoon, Wie was at 4-under 136 and the only player under par.
“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.”
Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills.
Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who opened with a 67, spent the afternoon trading birdies and bogeys, and bogeys were winning. She was 4 over for the day — 1 over for the championship — as she headed for the homestretch.
Lucy Li’s historic week as the youngest qualifier in the Women’s Open didn’t last long. She opened with a double bogey for the second straight day and wound up with another 78 to finish at 16-over par, well beyond the cut line.
The course was set up similar to the second round for the men last week, when Martin Kaymer set a U.S. Open record at 10-under 130 for a six-shot lead. He never let anyone get closer than four shots over the final 48 holes.
The tee was moved up on the par-4 third hole, playing 229 yards (it was 315 yards for the men). The par-5 10th was moved all the way back to 578 yards.
Wie had four birdies on the back nine to rally from a poor start in the opening round. Friday was far more steady. She opened with eight straight pars, then made birdie on the 18th hole from the sandy area by punching a gap wedge to about 15 feet.
More than the birdies were too key pars.
She went long on the 417-yard second hole and feared her chip would go off the front of the green. It barely stayed, and she made a 15-foot putt to escape. The panic set in on the par-3 sixth when she hit the front of the green and rapped her putt too strong. Most putts like that get past the hole and never stop until they run off the back of the turtleback green. This one stayed on the surface, and she knocked in a 25-footer for par.
“I had a couple of those today, which was really nice,” she said.
The only time she worried was on No. 8, the second-toughest at Pinehurst No. 2 in the second round.
She hit 3-wood off the tee on the 425-yard hole, and tried to hit a 6-iron short and right to avoid going left of the green, one of the worst spots to be on the course.
“I pulled it a little bit off that hill, and left is no good there,” Wie said. “I was thinking that could either be great or it could be disastrous. So both me and my caddie were having a little bit of a heart attack on that shot. It turned out great.”
She made a 12-footer for birdie, and then hit a cut pitching wedge from 124 yards on the par-3 ninth to 15 feet for a final birdie.
Minjee Lee, the 18-year-old amateur from Australia, had a 71 and Amy Yang had a 69. They were at even-par 140.
The greatest testament to Wie is that having the lead at the U.S. Women’s Open lead is no longer a big surprise. She is hitting the ball clean and under control She has created her own putting stroke and his vastly improved.
Wie won the LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii and has seven other top 10s this year, including a runner-up finish to Lexi Thompson in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year. The last time Wie was a regular contender in the majors, she was 16.
“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.”