Colorado Springs, Colo. – As she came down the inward nine of her second round on Saturday, Michelle Wie no longer thought about the U.S. Women's Open Championship, per se. She was thinking about the championship within the championship, the fight to make the cut.
Wie came to her 35th hole standing at 8-over par, knowing the 36-hole cut was projected to be 7-over. She knocked an approach to within 15 feet of the 17th flagstick, giving her a chance for birdie. But the putt hit the hole and caromed out. She settled for par, leaving her one more chance.
Finishing on the difficult par-4 18th, Wie’s approach shot landed on the green and settled some 35 feet from the hole. As she walked up to the elevated green, just in case she wasn't aware of the situation, the gallery reinforced the importance of the putt.
“Not to put any pressure on me, but as I was walking up to the 18th green, everybody is like, 'You have to make it to make the cut,'” Wie said, laughing. “I was like, Oh, OK.”
With her championship life on the line, Wie took her time, sized up the long birdie putt and rolled it in as the crowd erupted. The stroke shaved from her cumulative score wound up being just enough to keep her playing for 36 more holes.
Wie had experienced early dismissals in her last three Women's Open appearances, two by cuts (2010, 2008) and one by withdrawal (2007). She had also read the comments made by Annika Sorenstam and Dottie Pepper earlier in the week, suggesting she has failed to live up to her considerable promise.
The last thing Wie wanted was to offer corroboration to her critics by missing the cut at The Broadmoor.
“It felt really good, it's just kind of what I really needed,” said Wie, who was one of 16 to make the cut on the number. “I'm really proud of myself for making it. Hopefully it will be good enough and hopefully I'll play a lot better on the weekend.”
Straddling the cut fence is dangerous business; one side is hope, the other despair. Juli Inkster came to Colorado this week hoping to rekindle memories of her 1982 U.S. Women’s Amateur victory that occurred on the nearby Mountain Course. At age 51, she also hoped to match Jack Nicklaus' feat of winning multiple USGA championships on two different golf courses.
Inkster already has double USGA wins at Prairie Dunes, where she won the Women’s Amateur in 1980 and the Women's Open title in 2002. But Inkster was unable to create the magic, in part because she cracked her wand. Inkster broke her putter when she rapped it against her bag on No. 11 during Saturday’s second round and putted with her sand wedge over the remaining eight holes. She nearly wedged her way into the final two championship rounds.
After knocking it close and tapping in for birdie on the par-3 16th hole, Inkster was at seven -over par, safely on the “positive” side of the fence. But she suffered one more bogey on No. 17 the eighth of her round – and couldn't get it back on No. 18. She finished at 8-over 150, one stroke over the line in her 32nd Women's Open.
“I putted the last eight holes with my sand wedge, so if would have made the cut it would have been a bonus,” said Inkster, who was none too pleased with a final nine holes that included two birdies, two pars and five bogeys.
Inkster acknowledged she had high hopes for the week, during a season in which she has had three top-10s. But she had only herself and 67 putts in two rounds to blame.
“I thought the course was set up really well,” she said. “I didn't think the rain affected things very much in terms of how it played. The length wasn't an issue. It was just sloppy putting on my part. It's very disappointing, the way I putted.”
Teen phenom Alexis Thompson was another player to get an early dismissal on Saturday. Thompson tied for 10th at Oakmont last year and, still just 16, she was playing in her fifth Women's Open. With The Broadmoor stretched to 7,047 yards, the longest course in Women's Open history, the long-hitting Thompson figured to fare well.
And yet despite averaging 303.5 yards in driving distance over two rounds, Thompson couldn't get herself inside the cut line. After opening with a 77, she battled to stay solvent on Saturday.
Entering the final nine of the second round – which she started on No. 10 – Thompson was eight over par and determined to get one back. Instead, she went in the other direction, bogeying Nos. 5 through 7 in succession and finishing at 11-over 153.
“I just struggled,” said Thompson. “You have to hit fairways and I had trouble doing that. It was just frustrating the whole day.”
How do you define frustration? You do so by hitting just 12 of 28 fairways, 21 of 36 greens and taking 65 putts on 36 greens. “It's mentally hard when you miss fairways and then you have to lay up, Thompson said. “This is a tough course, mentally. But I never gave up. I was always shooting for birdies. Even on the last hole, I had a 3-foot putt for birdie and missed it.
“Everything is a learning experience. I just need to figure some things out.”
When the second round concluded on Saturday afternoon, 72 players (67 professionals and five amateurs) advanced. How those final 36 holes will play out, in lieu of weather delays, remains to be seen.
In addition to Inkster and Thompson, several other notables were among the 84 who failed to qualify. Past Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim, Jennifer Rosales, Sophie Gustafson, 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Amanda Blumenherst and Chistina Kim all missed the cut. The cut had no age requirement, as the oldest player in the field – Betsy King, 55 – and the youngest in the field – Mariel Galdiano,13 – both headed home.
Meanwhile, five amateurs are staying around for more. They include 16-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand (three over), Amy Anderson (four over), Victoria Tanco of Argentina (five over), Lindy Duncan (six over) and reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang (seven over).