Wie again finds game judged against men's in Open

Michelle Wie raises her putter as her birdie putt finds the hole at the 10th. Wie had only 26 putts in a 2-under 68 on Thursday at the U.S. Women's Open.

PINEHURST, N.C. – It should come as no surprise that the girl who once wanted to play with the boys is near the top of the leaderboard at Pinehurst No. 2, where the U.S. Open was held a week ago.

On another hot and steamy day in the Sandhills of North Carolina, Michelle Wie carded five birdies en route to a round of 2-under 68 at the U.S. Women’s Open, just one stroke off the pace set by World No. 1 Stacy Lewis. Perhaps no one has embraced the USGA’s “grand experiment” of back-to-back Opens at Pinehurst quite like Wie.

“I love that we are playing on the same stage as the men,” Wie said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show everyone how great we are because we can directly compare ourselves with the men.”

Wie watched and learned from the men during Sunday’s final round, walking inside the ropes with her friend, Rickie Fowler, in the final group and coming away with the yardage books of Fowler and Keegan Bradley and their caddies.

“Oh, yeah, they were big helps. They put some really good notes in for me. I did a lot of homework. I think it's the most homework I've ever done on a golf course,” said Wie, who color-coded her notes into the one she carried with her.

Just as importantly, she said she gained a new mindset for playing for a major title where birdies are scarce and pars are precious.

“They’re fearless,” Wie said of the men. “They just go up to a putt, they go up to a shot and they see a shot and they go for it.”

On Thursday, Wie was followed at times by Peggy Kirk Bell, by her longtime instructor David Leadbetter, and of course, by her father, B.J., who studied comprehensive diagrams of the putting greens at Pinehurst. He had to like what he saw from his daughter, who holed birdie putts of 30 feet on 10 and 12, and drained a clutch 15-foot par putt on 17, which was worthy of a fist pump.

“That putt that I made on 17 felt really great and gave me good momentum going into 18,” Wie said.

The Big Wiesy walloped a 270-yard drive at the last and fans cheered and whistled when she dropped a 52-degree wedge inside 7 feet for a closing birdie. Wie, using a left-hand-low grip, took just 26 putts for the round and had no three-putt greens.

Wie is no stranger to the leaderboard at the USWO – she held the 54-hole lead in 2005 and 2006 as a teen – but her recent form had been lacking. In four of her last six opening rounds in the USWO, Wie failed to break 80 and hadn’t topped a 74. Last year, she withdrew with one hole left to play with no chance of making the cut, citing illness.

But this year her game is healthy again. Wie has eight top-10 finishes in 12 starts and won the LPGA Lotte Championship in April.

“I’ve been playing practice rounds with Michelle Wie since she’s 12,” Cristie Kerr said. “It’s good to finally see her elevating her game and getting in the mix.”

Wie’s been around long enough to know you don’t win a major on Thursday, and she took her strong start in stride.

“It's a long road until Sunday,” she said. “I've had a lot of fun today, it's great being in contention. I'm going to do my best tomorrow and see what happens. If I keep doing what I'm doing now, I'll be close, and hopefully I'll be there Sunday having an opportunity, and that's really all I can ask for.”

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