PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie refuses to get ahead of herself in this run into contention at another major championship, but on Friday she couldn’t deny the dream that drives her.
Asked if like most young golfers she imagined making putts that won majors while growing up, she confessed to a funny habit that follows her to this day.
“Every time I hold something, people make fun of me, because I hold it like a trophy,” Wie said.
With another 2-under-par 68 Friday, Wie moved closer to a real moment like that with the U.S. Women’s Open trophy, but she will face a familiar foe trying to get there. Closing out her morning round with back-to-back birdies at Pinehurst No. 2, Wie moved to the top of the leaderboard, three shots ahead of Lexi Thompson, who beat Wie head-to-head in a final round duel to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the year’s first major. Thompson’s 68 in the afternoon moved her into a final pairing with Wie on Saturday.
Thompson was asked if she’s eager for another Sunday showdown with Wie.
“There’s a lot of golf to be played, especially at a U.S. Women's Open,” Thompson said. “So I'm going to take one shot at a time, and be patient, like I have the last two days, and see where it takes me.”
At 4-under 136, Wie will take momentum and confidence into the weekend in another bid to win her first major in her continuing resurgence in the women’s game. Wie was runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the year’s first major, back in April, and she won her very next start, the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, her first victory in four years.
Wie is making a habit of jumping onto leaderboards this year, and now she’s on the most important one in women’s golf.
While Wie shared her story of hoisting imaginary trophies, she was quick to qualify it.
“Like I’ve said, I’m going to stay in the present,” Wie said. “It’s a long way to Sunday. Definitely, it’s always been a big dream of mine.”
Wie will be well rested for the weekend run. She said she recently started watching HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and will view a couple episodes before going to bed early Friday night.
“Like 8:30,” Wie said. “I don’t make it to 9.”
Wie played the first 36 holes of this championship like a master tactician, playing to safe havens, staying out of big trouble, holing timely big putts. Her putting, for so long an Achilles heel, is a large reason she was atop the leaderboard when she signed her scorecard Friday.
The yardage books she got from Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley helped her map out a game plan that’s working beautifully. Still, her execution is what is making it work. She is in control of her game, from tee to green.
“I think it's course management,” Wie said when asked the key to her round. “I think my caddie and I did a great job today, even if I left myself 50 foot putts for birdie. We just played it safe on a lot of holes, where you just can't really go for the pins. I think we did a good job of being aggressive and playing it safe. Course management was definitely working today.”
Wie started her round with eight consecutive pars, a run that rarely hurts a player in U.S. Women’s Open set-ups. She stayed patient before finally making her first birdie at her ninth hole (No. 18) and then coming back from her first bogey with that birdie-birdie finish. She hit a 6-iron to 12 feet at No. 8 and a pitching wedge to 15 feet at No. 9 for her closing birdies.
Wie’s best putts weren’t for birdies. They were for pars. She made a 15-footer to save par at No. 2 and a 15-footer to save par at the No. 6.
While Wie’s “table-top” putting stroke has gained a lot of attention, she says a change in attitude toward putting also has helped. She said in working with players like Fowler, Ernie Els and Camilo Villegas near her home in Jupiter, Fla., she has learned to play more fearlessly, even with a putter in hand. She said LPGA greats Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon also have helped her to quit obsessing over results.
“If it goes in, great; if it doesn't, it doesn't,” Wie said. “I'm just going to try to hit the best putt I can.
“Sometimes I worry about it too much. And I want to make it too much. To think about it. I'm going out, if I hit it the right speed, if I hit it the right line, chances are, hopefully, it will go in. That's kind of the mentality I had. I think it's been working a little bit.”
Wie would like it to work to where that U.S. Women’s Open trophy ends up in her hands.