One week after Martin Kaymer made Pinehurst No. 2 look like an amateur course, the ladies take center stage, beginning with the first round of the 2014 U.S. Women's Open. It was a very similar story to what we saw seven days ago, with low scores to be found all over the place on Thursday.
The early contender for round of the day went to American Stacy Lewis. The top-ranked player in the world went into the clubhouse with a bogey-free three-under-par 67 in the first round. She has finished outside the top 10 in the Open every year since 2009.
In 2008, the last year Lewis was in contention to win the event, she led after the third round before shooting a 78 on Sunday to finish five strokes behind Inbee Park. Even though that was her coming-out party, it would be another three years before she won a major championship (2011 Nabisco Championship).
Ron Sirak of Golf World and Golf Digest quickly pointed out how strong Lewis looked through Round 1 with this Twitter nugget about what it could mean for Friday:
Lewis said after the round, via the tournament's official Twitter account, that this is the kind of stage she prefers to play on:
If there were any nerves, Lewis certainly didn't show them on Day 1. She hit 13 of 14 fairways, 17 of 18 greens in regulation and needed just 32 putts to get through her day. The only bad thing you can say is she couldn't save two sand shots, but that's nitpicking.
Here's a look at how the top 20 players stack up following Thursday's first round action:
|1||Stacy Lewis||-3 (67)|
|2||Michelle Wie||-2 (68)|
|T3||Minjee Lee||-1 (69)|
|T3||Katherine Kirk||-1 (69)|
|T3||So Yeon Ryu||-1 (69)|
|T6||Paula Creamer||E (70)|
|T6||Karrie Webb||E (70)|
|T6||Candie Kung||E (17)|
|T6||Stephanie Meadow||E (16)|
|T6||Mina Harigae||E (16)|
|T11||Angela Stanford||+1 (71)|
|T11||Na Yeon Choi||+1 (71)|
|T11||Amy Yang||+1 (71)|
|T11||Christel Boeljon||+1 (71)|
|T11||Sue Kim||+1 (71)|
|T11||Brooke M. Henderson||+1 (71)|
|T11||Juli Inkster||+1 (71)|
|T11||Eun-Hee Ji||+1 (71)|
|T11||Pornanong Phatlum||+1 (71)|
|T11||Lexi Thompson||+1 (71)|
|T11||I.K. Kim||+1 (71)|
|T11||Rebecca Artis||+1 (16)|
|T11||Mariajo Uribe||+1 (16)|
|T11||Maria Hernandez||+1 (15)|
*Full leaderboard can be found at LPGAScoring.com by clicking here and current through 8 p.m. ET
In addition to Lewis' brilliance on Thursday, the other big story from the day was 11-year-old Lucy Li playing in the U.S. Women's Open.
Li made history just by being on the course at all, but more than held her own with an eight-over-par 78. She was really done in by three holes (Nos. 3, 10 and 16) where she took a triple bogey, double bogey and double bogey respectively.
The good news is Li finished the round well. She started on the back nine and shot 40, but came back with a solid 38 on the front nine to end the day.
Lucy Li, 11, cards 78 in historic U.S. Women's Open round http://t.co/hepRyYgpuM— ESPN Golf (@ESPNGolf) June 19, 2014
To make you feel worse about your own swing, the LPGA tweeted a picture of Li's swing sequence from Thursday's round that looks textbook:
Despite the high score that will likely prevent her from making the cut, Li reminded everyone how old she is and that sports are more about fun than anything else at the post-round press conference, via WRAL-TV sports anchor Jeff Gravley:
While any normal human being would be a pile of nerves, especially at 11 years old, going against professional athletes, Li's playing partner Catherine O'Donnell raved about Li's ability and composure to Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
She's way better than I was expecting. She's a great player. She hits it out there farther than I was expecting, too. She hit it by me twice, I wasn't really happy about that. But, no, she's a joy to play with. Couldn't have been nicer. Very intelligent girl.
What would be the best story from the US Women's Open?
Going to the opposite end of the spectrum, seven-time major winner Juli Inkster is potentially playing in her final U.S. Women's Open. She made the announcement on Wednesday to the Associated Press, via the San Jose Mercury News, by saying "this is probably my last one."
While the expectations are being kept in check for Inkster, who is playing in this event for the 35th time, she did hold her own on Thursday with a one-over 71 that included four bogeys and three birdies.
Following Inkster's round, Sirak tweeted this gem that puts the unique dichotomy of time and sports in some perspective:
11-year-old Lucy Li shoots 78 and Juli Inkster, who is 54 Tuesday, shoots 71 in the @usopengolf Just part of why golf is an awesome game!— Ron Sirak (@ronsirak) June 19, 2014
As thrilling as it was to watch the new and young blood on the LPGA Tour, this tournament figures to be Lewis' U.S. Open breakthrough. Inkster even acknowledged that to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer:
Juli Inkster on Stacy Lewis: "Stacy's playing unbelievable. I don't know that anybody can catch her." #USWomensOpen— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) June 19, 2014
It would be fascinating to think that all the talk involving Pinehurst's difficulty could result in two wire-to-wire champions who destroyed the course in consecutive weeks. Lewis likely benefited from an early start time.
For instance, last week Graeme McDowell noted that the greens played differently early in the day and that there were low scores to be found on the course:
Of course, just because low scores are out there doesn't mean anything is guaranteed. Lewis wasn't the only player to start early, yet she put in one of the best rounds of the day. The 29-year-old has been red-hot all year with 11 top-10 finishes in 13 tournaments.
There's a massive herd of players directly behind the leader that is going to make Friday very crucial as the ladies attempt to put themselves in a better position to make a move on Saturday after the field has been whittled down.