PINEHURST, N.C. — Since she played in her first LPGA Tournament at the age of 12, followed by several men’s professional events as a teenager, Michelle Wie has had the potential to be a dominant player in women’s golf.
The dominance was expected by many, possibly even by Wie herself.
At the age of 24, Wie has just three LPGA Tour victories and no major championship titles.
But she sure looks like a mature version of the prodigy with all the revered talent through two rounds of the 69th U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Wie closed her second round with a pair of birdies to shoot her second consecutive 2-under-par 68 and has a three-stroke lead over another celebrated young American, 19-year-old Lexi Thompson, at 4-under 136.
“I'm just really excited for the weekend,” Wie said. “I'm really excited that I have chance and I'm going to have a lot of fun this weekend.”
Thompson also carded a 68 for one of the six under-par rounds Friday on the challenging Donald Ross layout that was set up at approximately 6,300 yards for the second consecutive day.
First-round leader Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked player in the world, shot a 73 and fell into a three-way tie for third at even-par 140 with Amy Yang and Minjee Lee of Australia, the top-ranked amateur in the world.
Wie, Lewis and Thompson, who has a chance to win the first two majors of the year, are trying to become the first American winners of the Women’s Open since Paula Creamer in 2010, as South Korean women have won five of the past six.
Creamer shot a 72 Friday and is in a four-way tie for seventh that includes seven-time major champion Karrie Webb. Na Yeon Choi is alone in sixth at 1-over 141.
Wie had six top-five finishes in majors through 2006, when she was 16. She’s had just one since, but that was in this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, as 2014 has been a resurgent year for her.
She won the LPGA Lotte Championship in April with a final-round 67, has five top-four finishes and hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in her 12 tournaments to rank second to Lewis in 2014 LPGA Tour earnings.
Through all the ups and downs of a career that already seems long, Michelle Wie said she has never lost passion for the game of golf. But her good play this season has been driving her even more.
“I've been very patient, even when I didn't play well,” Wie said. “… I love working on my game. I love working on different shots and just trying to get better every day. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive. It’s just a lot more fun when you work hard and the results show. It kind of motivates you to work even harder, I think.”
Wie had three birdies and a bogey Friday. She teed off on the 10th hole and started her round with eight consecutive pars. “I’ll take par any day on this golf course,” Wie said.
She birdied the par-4 18th by punching a gap wedge from a divot to 15 feet, bogeyed the par-4 first when her club hit a clump of grass in a native area and a flop shot rolled back to the front of the green, and birdied her final two holes.
On the par-4 eighth, which is treacherous behind the green, she was trying to hit a 6-iron short right on the green and pulled it. “I was thinking that could either be great or it could be disastrous,” Wie said. “So both me and my caddie [Duncan French] were having a little bit of a heart attack on that shot. It turned out great. I had 12 feet behind the hole.” Wie added a wedge to 15 feet on the 124-yard ninth for birdie.
Prior to the birdies, Wie made a couple of key par saves on the front nine with a 15-foot putt on the second hole and 25-foot second putt on the sixth green. “I had a couple of those [saves] today, which was really nice,” Wie said.
Wie has been in contention after 36 holes at the U.S. Open before. She was second through 36 holes as an amateur in 2005 at Cherry Hills and again in 2012 at Blackwolf Run. She tied for 23rd in 2005 with a final-round 82 and tied for 35th two years ago with weekend scores of 78 and 80. Wie’s best finish in the Women’s Open is a tie for third in 2006.
She, and many of those on and around the LPGA Tour, believe she’s better suited to remain at or near the lead through the weekend.
“I'm kind of not really thinking about the score. I think this year I’ve just tried to think about every shot, every hole,” Wie said. “I've talked a lot about this with other players, the older players and some of the guys, as well. I think I used to be too worried about the final score and where I was standing. I was kind of too concerned about what place I was in, instead of just trying to play the best I could every hole.”
Thompson, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April, matched the low round of the day with a 68 and was 1-over through 11 holes before reeling off three consecutive birdies on holes 3-5.
She drove to a native area to the right of the green on the 230-yard par-4 third hole and putted out of it to 3 feet, hit a 7-iron to 15 feet on the par-4 fourth, and two-putted from 45 feet on the fringe on the par-5 fifth.
“Today went very well for me,” Thompson said. “I just stayed within one shot at a time and did my routine and had fun in between shots. … You just have to stay patient and there were a few birdie holes on back nine for me, on my second nine, so I knew I could make a few birdies there.”
After playing bogey-free in the first round, Lewis bogeyed the first hole Friday en route to six bogeys in a round of 73.
She hit 13 of 14 fairways for the second consecutive day, but missed seven greens after missing just one Thursday, and put pressure on herself by rolling several putts several feet past holes. Lewis bogeyed the 11th and 13th holes to fall 1 over before hitting her tee shot on the 139-yard par-3 15th to 3 feet for a birdie to get back to even par and closing with three pars.
“At a U.S. Open you're going to have to make some 5- and 6-footers and that's what I didn't do today,” Lewis said. “… But I played really good the last five holes. So I hung around and that's what you've got to do at this tournament.”