PINEHURST, N.C. — In the midst of throwing away a four-shot lead, Michelle Wie never lost sight of the big picture at Pinehurst No. 2.
The U.S. Women’s Open rarely goes according to plan, and Saturday was no exception. Wie knows that from experience long ago, and she settled down with four important pars to wind up with a 54-hole share of the lead for the third time in her career.
Wie was a teenager the other two times. Now at 24, she was one round away from capturing her first major.
“I’m just grateful for another opportunity,” Wie said after salvaging a 2-over 72 to tie Amy Yang. “Tomorrow I’m going to play as hard as I can and hope for the best.”
Yang, who earned a spot in the final group for the second time in three years, didn’t make a par until the eighth hole in a wild round so typical of this day. Only a sloppy bogey on the final hole cost her the outright lead, though she was more than happy with a 68.
They were at 2-under 208, the only players still under par.
A pivotal moment for Wie came on the 12th hole. She reached 6 under for the tournament with back-to-back birdies at the turn. She made her first double bogey of the tournament with a tee shot she hooked into the pine trees on the 11th. Her next drive sailed well to the right and settled on a sandy path. Instead of punching under the trees and over the bunker to the green — anything long is a tough up-and-down — she pitched out to the fairway and made bogey.
“U.S. Opens are tough,” she said. “I feel like maybe on a different golf course, I would have taken that chance. You just don’t want to be too greedy out here. Even though you make bogey, sometimes you just don’t want to make a double out here. I felt like I made the right decision there.”
The USGA set the course up relative to what the men faced last Saturday in the U.S. Open when wire-to-wire winner Martin Kaymer had his only over-par round with a 72. It was short (6,270 yards) but tough with the pin positions.
That didn’t stop Juli Inkster. The 53-year-old Hall of Famer, who has said her 35th appearance in the Women’s Open will be her last, had a tournament-best 66 to get into contention. She will be in the penultimate group, four shots out of the lead, still dreaming of a third Open title that would make her by 10 years the oldest Women’s Open winner.
“You can think and you can dream all you want,” Inkster said. “But the bottom line is you’ve got to come out and make the shots. And if I’m tied for the lead coming up 18, then maybe I’ll think about it. I’ve got a long way to go. I’m just going to enjoy the moment.”
Also remaining in the hunt was Lexi Thompson, who won the first LPGA major this year in a final-round duel with Wie. She pulled within one shot of Wie with a pair of birdies early during the third round, but finished with a 74 that left her 3 over.
Na Yeon Choi had a 71 and was in the group with Inkster at 2-over 212 along with Stephanie Meadow (69) and 18-year-old amateur Minjee Lee of Australia (72). Another shot back were So Yeon Ryu, who played her final 10 holes in 3 under for a 70, and Karrie Webb, who went the final 12 holes without a bogey for a 70.