After three intriguing days at Pinehurst No. 2 we have a small batch of contenders with a shot at adding a U.S. Open championship to their mantel on Sunday.
No, it isn't dominated by the same names that dominated headlines during the first two days of the tournament. The 11-year-old phenom Lucy Li put up an admirable performance, but she joined Cheyenne Woods as a future star in women's golf who just wasn't ready to compete just yet.
But it does include a former teen star angling for a championship in Michelle Wie. The 24-year-old may just be on the brink of winning her first major championship after first qualifying for the tournament in 2003. Here's a look at where she and the other contenders stand heading into the final day:
|2014 LPGA US Open Leaderboard|
|T3||Na Yeon Choi||+2|
|T7||So Yeon Ryu||+3|
With Wie and Amy Yang both gunning for their first major championship, it's bound to be an interesting finish in North Carolina. Here's a look at both of the promising talents and the one contender with the best chance at overcoming their four-stroke lead over the rest of the field.
After firing back-to-back 68s on the first two days of the tournament, Wie entered moving day as the favorite. Unfortunately, that doesn't always guarantee smooth sailing. Wie had a little more difficulty managing the course on Saturday.
Stephanie Wei made note of the performance that allowed Yang to get back in contention:
After starting strong on the front nine with a 34, Wie faded down the stretch. Her double bogey on No. 11 followed by bogeys on two of the next three holes led to a 38 on the back nine. To her credit, she recovered to card four pars to end the round.
But is the lost momentum to Yang going to come back to haunt her?
The answer might just be yes.
Wie did an excellent job to get to this point of contention, but facing a player who has improved her score in all three rounds might be problematic. Expect a score somewhere between her two opening rounds and her Day 3 mishap.
Predicted Score: 70 (-2 overall)
While Wie struggled to maintain her lead at Pinehurst, Yang continued her upward trend to the top of the leaderboard. Yang shot a 68 on Saturday and credited a strong performance on the back nine for the great finish:
Yang may have been more consistent on the back nine—she only went bogey on No. 18. However, it was the front nine where she did most of her scoring. She carded four birdies as she showcased the potential to catch fire on the final day.
With the momentum fully in her favor, Yang has to feel fairly confident teeing off with Wie on Sunday.
Looking to the final day, it wouldn't be shocking to see her go out and correct some of the issues that led to her four bogeys in the third round and shoot an even better score.
Predicted Score: 67 (-5 overall)
Of the batch of contenders sitting at two over par heading into the final day of the tournament, Juli Inkster should worry Wie and Yang for two reasons.
One, Inkster is the most accomplished of the bunch. At 53 years old, she's won seven major championships. The pressure of the final day of a championship isn't something that's going to bother her.
The second reason is that because her legacy is intact, she can approach this final round with a relaxed approach that neither of the top two contenders can duplicate. Inkster had this to say about her mindset heading into Sunday, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN):
You can think and you can dream all you want. But the bottom line is you've got to come out and make the shots. And if I'm tied for the lead coming up 18, then maybe I'll think about it. I've got a long way to go. I'm just going to enjoy the moment and hit a few balls and see what happens.
When projecting the final round of a tournament anything can happen. The mental aspect of the game counts for as much as anything, and it appears Inkster may have an edge in that department.
Predicted Score: 68 (Even overall)