The 2012 U.S. Women's Open is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in recent history.
With a wide variety of talented young players and veterans from all over the world on top of the leaderboard heading into the weekend, it's sure to be extremely competitive over the final two days on a challenging Blackwolf Run golf course that's only going to get tougher as the end draws nearer.
Norway's Suzann Pettersen, one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour and ranked No. 6 in the world, is in the lead after two rounds at five-under-par. She is followed closely by two American players, Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr, who are both just one shot back. Then, three players are at three-under-par—America's Vicky Hurst, Korea's Inbee Park and Sandra Gal from Germany.
There are a total of 12 players under par, and anyone within 10 shots of the lead still has a legitimate chance to win. On a golf course that should be firm and fast with difficult pin placements for the final 36 holes, it's quite possible that scores at the top of the leaderboard will not get much lower than they are right now, so anyone who can fashion a stellar performance on "moving day" might find themselves in the hunt on Sunday.
Here are five storylines heading into the weekend at the 2012 U.S. Women's Open.
One week ago, I said the LPGA Tour needs Michelle Wie.
But, in nine tournaments on the tour in 2012, Wie missed the cut in five of them. Her scoring average entering the U.S Open this week was 75.27. She wasn't doing anything particularly well, hitting a little less than half her fairways and just under 60 percent of her greens in regulation.
Then there's her putting average. At almost 32 putts per round, she was near the bottom of the rankings with the flat stick.
Her Rolex Ranking dropped to No. 39 in the world, and there was nothing but disappointment all the way around—for Wie, for her fans and for the LPGA Tour.
Well, that all changed in one day at the U.S. Open. Wie fired an incredible six under par 66, the lowest round of this tournament so far and the lowest round in her U.S. Open history, and she surged into a second-place tie after 36 holes.
During her post-round press conference she said:
"I don't know if anyone gave up on me or not. I'm sure some did and some didn't. But I never gave up on myself, and today was a good reminder to myself that I can do and I still have it."
I said I expected Wie's performance to change for the better, but I wasn't anticipating it to happen this quickly. Compared to most of her tournaments this season, she looked like a completely different person on the golf course, and as a result, she not only made the cut—something that has been a big challenge for her this year—but she competed for the lead.
It was good to see her smiling again.
Wie hit 15 of 18 greens, but had 35 putts on Thursday while shooting 74. Friday, she got the putter going, hitting just 11 of 18 greens but using only 23 putts on her round. If she can somehow combine the best from her first two rounds, she'll have an incredible weekend and perhaps her first major championship victory.
After two rounds of the U.S. Women's Open Championship, there are 16 American players within seven shots of the lead.
That group is led by the aforementioned Michelle Wie, whose stellar play has surprisingly earned her a spot in the final group with 36-hole leader Suzann Pettersen on Saturday.
Tied with Wie at four-under-par is veteran Cristie Kerr, who is no stranger to major championships and the pressure that accompanies them. Kerr has won two majors, including the U.S. Open in 2007, and she has 19 additional top 10 finishes in majors. That's an advantage over almost every other player in the field.
"I always draw on that experience, of course, but it's hard to predict what's an advantage and what's not an advantage," Kerr said in her post-round presser. "You just don't know. Sometimes it's an advantage to not know that you can go out and win. You've seen that before. That's what happened with Webb Simpson at the Men's Open this year. So, it's really hard to predict that. If I'm staring down somebody on Sunday at the 18th hole, I think that experience really helps."
Other American players in the mix within five shots are Vicky Hurst (three-under-par), Lizette Salas (two-under-par), Lexi Thompson and Nicole Castrale (one-under-par), and Gerina Piller and Jennie Lee (even-par). One more shot back at one-over-par is Jessica Korda and Alison Walshe.
Some notable American names are still in the hunt at two-over-par: former U.S. Open champion Paula Creamer and the No. 2 player in the world, Stacy Lewis. Creamer semi-struggled to her second straight 73, while Lewis rebounded from an opening round 77 to shoot 69 Friday.
Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world on a quest to become the youngest golfer ever to capture a career grand slam with a win at the U.S. Open this week, is still in the hunt.
Tseng followed a disappointing opening round 74 with an even-par 72 on Friday to stay within seven shots of the lead at two-over-par.
During her post-round presser Friday, she was still optimistic about her chances to win:
"Still not far back," Tseng said. "When you see the score today, there is so many under par, so tomorrow, I believe on the weekend they're going to be much tougher. But, I think this course, I still can make lots of birdies out there. I just need to be patient and see tomorrow if I can shoot four, five‑under, get back to two, three‑under, that would be great."
I'm certainly not going to question her confidence. Tseng has the ability to win anywhere, but she'll have to get over a U.S. Open slump. Her best finish at this tournament is a T-10 in 2010 at Oakmont.
A come-from-behind victory of this magnitude would not only be impressive, it would be record-setting.
Read my exclusive 2012 U.S. Women's Open preview interview with Yani Tseng.
One of the biggest stories at any golf tournament is the cut line after two rounds, and at the U.S. Women's Open, it's even more interesting, as the leaders can sometimes come back to the rest of the field over the final 36 holes.
Some of the notable names that missed the cut were two-time U.S. Open champion Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis, Ryann O'Toole, I.K. Kim, Christina Kim, Cheyenne Woods and Morgan Pressel, who had to withdraw after 14 holes Friday with tendinitis.
One of the players that barely made the cut was Brittany Lincicome. After an opening round of 69 that put her near the top of the leaderboard, she ballooned to an inexplicable 80 on Friday that pushed her down to the cut line. After her round she commented:
"I did nothing right today. I couldn't drive the ball. I couldn't do anything right. I couldn't putt—I had 32 or 33 putts today, which obviously is not good. I three‑putted three times in the first six or seven holes, I think. That's obviously kind of frustrating. You go out and feel like you did so good yesterday and had no idea what happened today."
Welcome to golf—and Blackwolf Run. I'm guessing Lincicome won't be the last player to speak like that before this challenging—and oftentimes frustrating—U.S. Open championship is over.
The brutally warm temperatures that plagued Thursday's play continued into Friday, where it got over 90 degrees with a scalding heat index.
It's a condition the golfers have had to deal with just as they would cold, wind and/or rain. But aside from being smart and staying properly hydrated, it's a mental test as much as a physical one, much like the U.S. Open itself.
Many of the players said it didn't feel quite as warm as the opening round, but 90 sunny degrees is still very hot to be outside in for close to six consecutive hours, which is what it took some of the groups to finish their round. The weekend forecast is looking cooler even though an excessive heat warning remains in effect until 7 a.m. Saturday.
Regarding the weather, Yani Tseng commented:
"I feel much better than yesterday, but tomorrow is going to be good, so I'm excited about that."
Melissa Reid, who shot a 69 Friday and is currently four-over-par for the tournament, added:
"I think that's why we go to the gym, for that very reason. We do get in positions like this sometimes and you get the other extreme when it's raining and you obviously get very tired. So, that's why we do the gym work. That's why we try and keep ourselves fit."
High temperatures on Saturday are expected to be around 78 degrees with a chance of isolated thunderstorms, while Sunday's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and 81 degrees.