PINEHURST, N.C. — There are two players over the past week who can say they had a relatively stress-free trip around Pinehurst No. 2.
The first is Martin Kaymer, who made 11 birdies and just one bogey in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open last week. All he did was win by eight shots Sunday.
The second is Stacy Lewis, who shot a bogey-free 67 Thursday in the opening round of the 69th U.S. Women’s Open and missed just one fairway and one green in regulation on a layout where many players are picking spots to intentionally miss the course’s turtle-back and undulating greens.
“It was such an easy day,” Lewis said. “I played really, really solid, other than I had to make a few par putts after I ran some putts by and got them above the hole. But other than that I didn't put myself in too bad of spots and made a few birdies, which was nice.”
The 3-under-par 67 gave Lewis a one-shot lead over Michelle Wie and two-shot advantage over Australian Katherine Kirk (formerly Hull), South Korean So Yeon Ryu and 18-year-old Australian Minjee Lee, as just five players are under par. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who has won twice this season, and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer are at even-par 70.
Play was suspended at 7:15 p.m. because of lightning in the area and 30 players have yet to finish their opening rounds, though none are under par. Candie Kung, Mina Harigae and Stephanie Meadow are at even par with one or two holes remaining. Play is scheduled to resume at 6:45 a.m. Friday.
Lewis’ outcome Sunday remains to be seen, but playing an “easy” round is a good start for the 29-year-old Texan, who is in her third week atop the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and is seeking her third win this season and third career major championship.
Perhaps a comparison to Kaymer is justified. Lewis was at Pinehurst to watch some of Sunday’s final round.
“I like to hit a cut a lot like Kaymer does,” Lewis said. “So on a lot of those holes, it was cool to see the plan I had laid out in my head, he was kind of doing the same thing. So it was nice coming into the week, knowing that my plan was going to work on this golf course.”
Lewis began her round on the 10th hole and birdied the par-4 14th with a 20-foot downhill putt, par-4 16th with a 5-iron from 185 yards to 6 feet and par-4 eighth with an 8-iron to 8 feet.
“I was concerned about the collection areas, but I was never in them today, so I guess I avoided all the trouble,” Lewis said. “The only thing that was easy about it was that I had a lot of tap-in pars. I wasn't struggling to make par all day. I was really hitting the shots I needed to hit.
“The golf course wasn't easy by any means. It's going to play hard the rest of the week. But the way it was set up today, if you hit good shots, you got rewarded.”
Wie, who is second to Lewis in earnings this year on the LPGA Tour, had a more eventful 68 with three bogeys and five birdies, including one on her final hole to move her into solo second.
“Any round under par, I'll take it,” Wie said. “It was a grind out there today. It will probably be a grind the next three days, but I'll take it.”
Wie birdied the second hole and was just off the green in two shots on the par-5 fifth but made bogey by skulling a chip shot into a bunker and missing a 4-foot par putt. She bogeyed the seventh to fall 1 over. “I have to have the mentality that stuff like that is going to happen, I just have to think positively that it happens,” Wie said.
She holed birdie putts of 30 feet or more on the 10th and 12th holes to get back under par, traded a birdie and bogey on the 14th and 16thholes, and capped her round with a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th green.
Many of the game’s top players were unable to escape Pinehurst’s perils Thursday, taking a serious hit to their hopes of contending despite the course being set up at 6,300 yards, which is 350 less than the tournament’s advertised yardage.
Defending champion Inbee Park, playing with Lewis, shot a 6-over 76 with two birdies, four bogeys and two double bogeys. Park won six times in 2013 including the first three majors of the year and is coming off her first win of 2014.
“I think it's probably beyond disappointment,” Park said. “It was so quick and I just don't know what happened. I was just really shocked how the golf course was playing. I didn't feel like I played horrible, but the score is bad. So it's so easy to make a lot of big numbers here.”
Also shooting 76 were 17-year-old world No. 3 Lydia Ko and No. 10 Cristie Kerr, who won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at nearby Pine Needles and has seven top-10s this year, including a runner-up two weeks ago.
One shot worse were five-time major champion Yani Tseng, Shanshan Feng, a three-time winner in 2012-13, and Morgan Pressel. World No. 4 and two-time major winner Suzann Petterson shot a 78, and Jessica Korda, who has two wins this season, shot a 79.
So many of the game’s top players are all but out of contention.
“I definitely need some lower numbers to put myself back into position,” Park said. “But I think my plan has definitely changed. My plan will be making less bogeys tomorrow and trying to just stay out of the trouble. It’s not so much about the trophy now anymore, it’s just trying to keep it into play.”
“… If I can hit it like [Lewis] today and straight like her today and putt like her, that would be great,” Park said.