PINEHURST — This is how the USGA envisioned the U.S. Women’s Open championship at Pinehurst No. 2.
Going into the final 18 holes, there are 12 players within six shots of the two leaders. And the pair at the top are the only ones under par for the tournament.
Amy Yang battled through a number of highs and highs in her round to record a 2-under 68 to move into a tie with Michelle Wie atop the leaderboard at 2 under for the tournament.
Yang had four birdies and three bogeys in her first seven holes before recording a par on the eighth. She added birdies on holes 10 and 14 before closing out her day with a bogey on 18.
“Kind of started like up-and-down, but later towards the back nine I was hitting the ball much more solid, like better than yesterday,” Yang said. “I think I putted really well, too. I’m really happy about my round today.”
Wie entered the third round with a 3-shot lead after back-to-back 68s to start the tournament. After opening her day with a bogey, Wie had birdies on holes 3, 9 and 10 to move to 6-under par, but then ran into trouble.
Wie dropped four strokes over the next four holes to tumble out of the lead. She thought the heat ended up taking its toil on her over the final nine holes.
“The front nine was great. I just didn’t drive it well on a couple of holes on the back nine,” Wie said. “It’s hot out there, I think I need to maybe warm up a little less tomorrow, because I felt like I was really tired. But I made the turn and felt really tired out there.
“It’s definitely a grind, it’s not an easy golf course. Still 2-over today, I still can’t complain. Obviously there were a couple of shots I wanted back, and I felt I could do better, but at the same time I really grinded out there and I tried my best. I’m happy with that.”
Wie added she won’t feel extra pressure to try and break the United States’ dry spell in the U.S. Open. Paula Creamer was last American to win the championship in 2010 at Oakmont.
“I’m very proud that as an American I have a chance tomorrow and I’m definitely going to play with pride,” Wie said. “But at the same time I can’t look forward. I’m going to focus on every single shot. Play like I did on the front nine, and duplicate it on the back nine tomorrow. I’m going to have fun tomorrow and see what happens.”
The round of the tournament was recorded by veteran Juli Inkster, who vaulted herself into contention with a 4-under 66. Inkster had five birdies and a bogey in her round and is now 2 over for the week and tied for third with three others.
Inkster has captured seven majors during her professional career, the last came in 2002 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas. Inkster beat current NBC analyst Annika Sorenstam by two shots.
“I played really good,” Inkster said. “I hit every green. I mean, really the only green I missed was 4. And, you know, I was this far off, I putted it. I hit my irons really good. I had a lot of chances for birdies, especially on that front side. I was close. I managed my game on the back. A little trickier pins on the back. So really the only bad shot I hit all day was my second shot on 16, I kind of drop kicked it, but it ran up there. I played very smart and I played good.”
Inkster has made it known that this will be her 35th and final appearance at the U.S. Open. She said despite her strong showing in this year’s tournament, she has no plans for a comeback or regretting her decision.
“No, I’m good with it,” she said. “I’m totally fine with it.”
Also in the logjam for third is Stephanie Meadow, the former University of Alabama star is making her first start as a professional. Meadow had five birdies and four bogeys in her third round. She made the field as the first alternate and turned pro last week.
“I hit the ball really well today — pretty much all day,” Meadow said. “I struggled a little bit coming in with putting speed. But it’s a U.S. Open, everybody is going to make mistakes. It happens in different ways. Overall, I’m really happy with how I played and I’m just going to work on different things and get ready for tomorrow.
“To start my professional career here is so amazing. I’m so blessed that it happened. It’s awesome.”
First-round leader and the top-ranked women’s player in the world Stacy Lewis struggled again. After shooting a 3-over 73 in the second round, Lewis shot a 4-over 74 Saturday to drop to 4 over for the week. She finished with four bogeys, a double bogey and two birdies.
Lewis said she continues to have a problem finding her way putting stroke. She had 32 putts Thursday, 33 on Friday and 34 in Saturday’s third round.
“I didn’t play well…didn’t make many putts,” Lewis said. “Had a bunch of three-putts, and it wasn’t a good day. I’ve got to make more putts, that’s the thing. I’m hitting the ball good enough, I just need to make some more putts.”
Five players are tied at 3 over including Lexi Thompson who started Saturday at 1-under, three strokes behind Wie. Thompson fired a 4-over 74. She recorded birdies on 3 and 5 before back-to-back double bogeys on 8 and 9 derailed her round.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.