OAKMONT, Pa. – Brittany Lang knows what it is like to lead the U.S. Women’s Open after one round. What she is determined to do this time is be in front after the final round, too.
“It’s out there if you want it,” Lang said after her opening-round 69 made her the sole leader in the women’s national championship.
What Cristie Kerr likes is it is easily out there for her, too. Again.
Kerr, who trounced the LPGA Championship field by 12 strokes two weeks ago, was three shots off the lead going into Friday’s second round – the kind of margin that a cantankerous Oakmont Country Club can erase in a matter of moments.
Kerr was reminded immediately that winning one tournament guarantees nothing in the next when she bogeyed the first two holes. Welcome back to the Women’s Open. One hole later, the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer rallied with two birdies, and she finished with all pars except for one bogey.
“There’s not going to be a 19 under on this course,” Kerr said, referring to her LPGA score. “If somebody is under par at the end of the week, I’ll be surprised.”
Lang fashioned a surprise of sorts by being 2-under par after one round. As unpredictable as Oakmont’s pool table-fast greens were, and as confidence draining as the 94-degree heat was, many golfers wouldn’t have been surprised if even-par 71 would have produced a leader.
Lang was at 3 under until bogeying the final hole.
“You said it couldn’t be done, but on any golf course you can shoot a low number,” the 24-year-old Lang said. “If you’re hitting the ball good, you can for sure shoot a low score out here. But if you’re not on your game, you can shoot a big one.”
The proof: The 11-over 82 by Michelle Wie, who is ranked No. 10 in the world, and the 6-over 77 by returning champion Eun-Hee Ji. Both need the kind of round Oakmont almost never gives up merely to make it to the weekend.
“Everything,” Wie said when asked what she must do better.
Lang, the first-round leader as an amateur in 2005, and Kerr offer some hope that the U.S. might be restored to the U.S. Women’s Open. An American has won only once in five years – Kerr in 2007 – and only two U.S. golfers (Kerr and Wie) are in the Top 10.
Lang and fellow amateur-at-the-time Morgan Pressel tied for second in 2005, the same year that another then-amateur – yes, Wie – was tied for the lead after three rounds. Lang, who has won more than $2 million since then on the LPGA Tour, believes she is much better equipped now to win.
“Good scores will come if I control myself,” she said.
Or, by accepting pars on a course that can humble those determined to try for birdies – apparently, Wie’s mistake during a round in which she lost seven shots to par during one tournament-ruining, four-hole swing during his first nine.
“Even par is going to be sitting very nicely, you know, come the end of the week,” Lang said.
Paula Creamer said it is a must to adjust one’s play to a course where Stimpmeter readings on the greens are nearly 14, only slightly less than they were for the men at the 2007 U.S. Open.
“I’m playing pretty conservative,” said Creamer, who was among 14 golfers at 1-over 72. “I’m an aggressive player, and I have definitely changed the way that I play a golf course this week.”
Lang has already accomplished what some golfers believed might not happen on an historic course that’s set up much the same way it was in 2007, when Angel Cabrera won with a plus-5. And that’s shoot a round in the 60s.
“If I stay into each shot like I did, I’ll be at the top of the leaderboard,” Lang said,
The unexpected name atop that leaderboard much of the day was amateur Kelli Shean, a 22-year-old University of Arkansas golfer, Ernie Els enthusiast and a native of South Africa.
Shean gave up a shot with a bogey at No., 9 her finishing hole, and was joined by 2008 winner Inbee Park and two other Korean golfers, M.J. Hur and Amy Yang, at 1-under 70.
“I’m ecstatic to be here,” Shean said. “I didn’t expect to be here. I’m just really thankful.”
No doubt she and the rest of the 156-player field will be thankful if the predicted cold front comes through Friday and shaves 10 degrees off temperatures that climbed into the low 90s on Thursday, just as they did for each of the three practice rounds.
The heat browned Oakmont’s treacherous greens throughout the afternoon and slowed play to a pace that was dawdling at best. Mhairi McKay’s threesome, the first to hit the course, was warned about slow play only four holes into a round that lasted 5 1/2 hours.