The U.S. Open is always one of the biggest events in women's golf, but with so many intriguing angles to follow this year at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, this may be one of the most entertaining U.S. Women's Opens of all time.
Not only has there been plenty of great golf played by some of the world's best female players, but there have been several surprises and new stars born. The tournament has been so fun to watch, in fact, that it has overshadowed the men's U.S. Open, which was dominated by Martin Kaymer from wire-to-wire.
There is still plenty of golf to be played in the U.S. Women's Open from Pinehurst, but here are the storylines that have piqued the interest of fans and will continue to do so throughout the remainder of the tournament.
Michelle Wie Finally Fulfilling Potential
Michelle Wie was heralded as the future of women's golf when she burst onto the scene in 2002. Although Wie has had some good moments since then, she simply hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations that observers had for her. She has won three tournaments and twice finished second at majors, but Wie is still in search of that defining moment.
That moment may finally be on the horizon for the 24-year-old native of Hawaii, as she entered the third round of the U.S. Women's Open with the outright lead. According to NBC Golf Central, that is something Wie had never before accomplished:
This is the first time in Michelle Wie’s 38 major championship starts that she has held the outright lead after any round. #USWomensOpen— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 21, 2014
Wie obviously has a lot of work left in front of her before achieving her ultimate goal, but it can be argued that she has never had a better opportunity. Wie has really been playing some solid golf this year, having made all 10 cuts, winning once and finishing inside the top 10 on seven occasions. Everything is finally starting to come together, and a U.S. Open win would be the culmination of her evolution as a player.
So much is expected out of young star athletes that they are labeled busts if they don't succeed right away. The talent has always been inside Wie, but she just needed to figure out the right way to harness it. That may finally be happening, and it could result in the first major title of her career.
Juli Inkster Gets Better With Age
Which U.S. Women's Open storyline interests you most?
With seven LPGA major championships to her credit, 53-year-old Juli Inkster is unquestionably one of the best female golfers ever. It would be quite easy for her to rest on her laurels, ride off into the sunset and retire, but Inkster happens to be playing as well now as she did 20 or 30 years ago.
After a disappointing second round of 75, Inkster appeared to play her way out of contention. She made the cut at six-over par, but she was pretty far behind the leaders. Inkster made things interesting Saturday, though, as she fired a four-under 66 to move inside the top 10.
The ageless wonder has been somewhat overshadowed by 11-year-old Lucy Li throughout this tournament, but what she is doing isn't any less impressive than Li's accomplishment. Among those who would like to see Inkster make a run on Sunday is Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press:
Juli Inkster is T10 at the moment Hope it lasts. My opinion, the most underrated, underappreciated female athlete in US history.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) June 21, 2014
Inkster has twice won the U.S. Women's Open and is once again in the mix in what could be her final Open appearance. According to the Associated Press, Inkster doesn't intend to play regularly moving forward.
I'm not playing much. I think I'm only going to play a couple more this year. And next year I'll probably just play like six tournaments, too. This is probably my last one. ... Shoot, I've played in 35 of these, so that's pretty impressive. I love where I am right now. ... I've got a lot of new stuff, Solheim stuff, and doing a little TV commentating. I'm still going to be out here and be busy. But I'm definitely not going to play as much.
Based on how well she has played, though, perhaps she will have second thoughts. Whatever the case, it has been an absolute joy to watch an all-time great defy the aging process and compete with the best.
Lucy Li Shines Despite Missing Cut
Expectations weren't particularly high for 11-year-old Lucy Li entering the U.S. Women's Open, but there was a great deal of pressure on her to perform nonetheless. As the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history, it was blatantly obvious that fan and media attention on her would far exceed any other player.
If that wasn't already clear prior to the event, the fact that Donald Trump tweeted a message of encouragement to Li certainly put things in perspective:
Li didn't have a great tournament as far as the scorecard is concerned with two rounds of 78, but she was still quite impressive. She showed a great amount of poise throughout her two days at Pinehurst and even gave one of the world's best players a run for her money despite missing the cut, per ESPN Stats & Info:
11-year-old Lucy Li misses cut at U.S. Open but finished only 4 shots behind the No. 4 player in the world Suzann Pettersen.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 21, 2014
The challenge for Li was to manage expectations. She would have been sorely disappointed if she went to Pinehurst with delusions of winning, but that wasn't the case, according to Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com.
"Yeah, it's been a great week," Li said. "I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot and, yeah, I guess it has exceeded my expectations."
Li figures to be a contender in these tournaments for many years to come, and this was a great start. It isn't easy for young phenoms to maintain success in sports; however, Li has all the tools necessary to do that based on the way she played and carried herself this week.
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