PINEHURST, N.C. – Call them drama queens.
With so much curiosity surrounding how the men and women would compare with the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open being played for the first time in back-to-back weeks on the same venue, the women are distinguishing themselves in a way the men couldn’t.
The women seem determined to deliver all the drama the men did not in the closing scene of this historic experiment.
A week after Martin Kaymer ran away with an eight-shot victory, there’s more than one intriguing possibility looming for the women’s finish.
Can Michelle Wie turn a share of the 54-hole lead into the most important victory of her resurgent career?
Can Amy Yang tighten South Korea’s chokehold on this championship and give her homeland its sixth U.S. Women’s Open title in seven years?
Can Australian 18-year-old Minjee Lee become the youngest player ever to win a major championship and the first amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open since Catherine Lacoste in 1967?
Can 53-year-old Juli Inkster deliver the most improbable storyline of all and win the U.S. Women’s Open in her 35th and final appearance?
Fasten your seatbelts, this Sunday finish looks like it’s going to be a wild ride.
It looks like it might be more about who isn’t going to beat themselves than it is who’s going to win.
Wie, 24, started the day with a three-shot lead and looked like she might have a chance to Kaymer the field as she pulled away from Lexi Thompson early in their final pairing, but Wie stumbled coming home, playing the final eight holes in 4 over par.
Fighting to post a 2-over-par 72, Wie will start Sunday tied for the lead with Amy Yang (68).
At 2-under-par 208, they’re four shots ahead of Inkster, whose 66 was the day’s low round, and Lee (72). Also four back are Na Yeon Choi (71), who is bidding to win her second U.S. Women’s Open in three years, and Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow (69), who is playing in just her second U.S. Women’s Open.
“I'm happy that I'm in contention,” Wie said. “I'm just really grateful for another opportunity to get a major championship.”
This will mark the third time Wie takes a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open. She first did so in 2005 at Cherry Hills when she was 15 but ended up tying for 23rd. She did so again in ’06 at Newport Country Club but fell short tying for third.
Wie also took a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April but got beat by Thompson in their final-round duel.
Through all her struggles, all the adversity and the slumps, Wie never quit imagining the chance she is giving herself Sunday. She said she has been imaging it since she was that precocious teen who stormed the women’s game with all that promise.
“This is exactly where I wanted to be,” Wie said. “That's why I work hard. I want to be in positions like this. I want to be in the final pairing of the U.S. Open, and it's just great.
“When I was 15 and 16, the troubles that I came into when I was younger, I tried to plan my life, and a lot of times things don't happen the way they should, or the way they should in my mind,” Wie said. “So I'm just kind of going out there, living it day by day. Just a lot of fun when hard work pays off.”
Wie will play with Yang, 24, who is trying to give the South Koreans their fourth U.S. Women’s Open title in a row, their sixth in the last seven years. Yang won the HanaBank Championship last year for her first LPGA title, but her major championship record makes her look poised for a breakthrough on the game’s largest stage. Yang has six finishes of T-5 or better in majors. She was runner up when Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run two years ago.
What did she learn in her close calls?
“I’m still working on it, but I'm much better at controlling my emotion and controlling the nervous feeling,” Yang said.
Lee is trying to make history surpassing Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of a major. Lee is 18 years and 24 days old. Pressel was 18 years and 10 months old when she won the Kraft Nabisco in ’07.
Lee, the Aussie born of Korean parents, won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2012. She’s No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. She nearly won the Australian Ladies Masters earlier this year, finishing second to Cheyenne Woods in the Ladies European Tour event.
“I’ve been in this position, but not in a big tournament,” Lee said. “It’s going to be different, and I’m just going to try my best.”
Inkster has been in this position countless times as a seven-time major championship winner with two U.S. Women’s Open titles to her credit. If she wins at 53, she will surpass Fay Crocker as the oldest woman to win a major. Crocker was 45 when she won the Titleholders in 1960. Babe Zaharias is the oldest woman to win the U.S. Women’s Open. She was 43 when she won it in 1954.
Can she pull it off?
“You can dream all you want, but the bottom line is you've got to come out and make the shots,” Inkster said. “So, tomorrow, I'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.”
Inkster? Wie? Yang? Lee? Or somebody else?
Pick your drama queen, because Sunday is loaded with dramatic possibilities.