Surprise Leader at McDonalds

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McDonaldHAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- The buzz wasn't quite the same. The gallery was significantly smaller. About the only similarity between Michelle Wie trying to qualify for the U.S. Open and the Hawaii teenager at the LPGA Championship was her putting.
 
Whether it's Canoe Brook or Bulle Rock, the hole still looks awfully small.
 
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie finished strong to stay within sight of the lead.
Three days after her putter doomed her hopes of a U.S. Open berth, Wie missed six putts inside 12 feet on the first eight holes Thursday. She was toward the bottom of the pack until birdies on three of the final four holes gave her a 1-under 71, leaving her seven shots behind Nicole Castrale.
 
'I think my putting is getting better,' she said.
 
Castrale used a late string of birdies on the closing holes for a different result. It helped her post a career-low 64, giving her a two-shot lead over Cristie Kerr and Pat Hurst.
 
Only about 750 people trudged over the hilly terrain of Bulle Rock to watch the 16-year-old Wie, much smaller than the estimated 3,500 who showed up at Canoe Brook in northern New Jersey for the U.S. Open sectional qualifier.
 
'What happened on Monday, you can't really see anywhere else,' Wie said. 'The crowds were very supportive today, even though it was not quite as huge as Monday. But they stayed until the end, so I was very happy.'
 
About the same amount watched Annika Sorenstam earlier in the day as the three-time defending champion struggled at times off the tee and around the green for a 71 that included four birdies and three bogeys.
 
'It kind of summarized my year a little bit, so I'm not surprised,' said Sorenstam, who has not won since her 2006 debut.
 
Sorenstam and Wie were among those tied for 41st on a day when 24 players shot in the 60s.
 
The group at 67 included South Korean rookie Seon Hwa Lee, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory last week at the ShopRite Classic, and Dorothy Delasin, who played with Wie. Karrie Webb, who won the first major of the year at the Kraft Nabisco, and Juli Inkster opened with 70s.
 
'It was out there,' Inkster said. 'If you were going to play well, today was the day.'
 
Indeed, it was Castrale's day.
 
She was injured in a car accident during her senior year at Southern California, which led to three surgeries on her rotator cuff. She won twice on the Futures Tour to earn a card in the big leagues, worked hard in the offseason then suffered an emotional jolt in February when Dick Harmon died.
 
Her coach is Bill Harmon, but she got to know his brother and worked with Dick on her short game. The Harmon brothers -- Bill, Butch, Craig and Dick -- got together for a golf school and good times in Palm Desert, Calif., earlier this year, and Castrale recalled playing nine holes on a Thursday afternoon as Dick Harmon and her husband watched.
 
The next morning, Harmon died of a heart attack.
 
'That came as such a shock,' Castrale said, her eyes welling with tears as she spoke. 'He has unbelievable touch around the greens, and he really took me in.'
 
Bill Harmon recalled the dinner he had with his brother before he died in which they talked about the 27-year-old Castrale, and how she had persevered through her injuries.
 
'He turned to me and said, 'I cannot believe what a good player she's become. She works so hard,'' Harmon said. 'A lesser person would have packed it in by now.'
 
Dick Harmon would have been proud of her Thursday, an overcast day with soft greens and not much wind, ideal for scoring. She picked up three of her birdies from inside 100 yards, including her string on the back nine. She chipped to 4 feet on the par-5 15th, hit a sand wedge to a foot on the next hole, and choked up on an 8-iron for an approach into 8 feet on the 18th.
 
Castrale started on No. 10, and she played her second nine solidly to keep bogeys off her card and make her a surprising leader in the second major championship of the year.
 
'I just had to stay patient, because I know I've been playing well and just not really scoring,' she said.
 
Wie needed all the patience she had.
 
Her week began Monday at Canoe Brook, where she missed six birdie putts inside 12 feet in her morning round of 68, then had consecutive three-putt bogeys in the afternoon that eliminated her hopes of becoming the first woman in the U.S. Open.
 
Three days later, not much changed.
 
She hit the ball with authority from tee to green, and the hole looked the size of a thimble when she stood over putts. She missed six putts inside 12 feet on the first eight holes, taking double bogey at No. 5 when she had an awkward lie in the rough off the tee, a bad lie in the rough around the green, and then three-putted from about 40 feet on the fringe.
 
Her three birdies came inside 3 feet, including a two-putt birdie on the 15th.
 
'The last four holes seemed like I was back to normal,' Wie said. 'So hopefully, tomorrow morning I can keep that going.'
 
Divots:
Paula Creamer played with her right wrist bandaged after an MRI showed sprained ligaments. She had consecutive bogeys to start her second nine, but rallied to shoot 71. ... Morgan Pressel, in her second event since graduating from high school, played with Sorenstam and was 1 under for her round until making bogeys on two of her last three holes for a 73. 'It was a mess,' she said. ... Christina Kim, who shot 67, used John Killeen as her caddie. Killeen normally works for two-time U.S. Women's Open champion Meg Mallon, who had to withdraw because of the flu.
 
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