Behind 66, Inkster will look to go out on top at USWO
PINEHURST, N.C. – Juli Inkster, three days shy of her 54th birthday, negotiated Saturday's third round of the U.S. Women's Open in 66 strokes -- not only the lowest round of the championship, but also the lowest round of the last two weeks by anyone not named Martin Kaymer.
In the last round of the U.S. Open, which preceded the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2, former Florida State standout Daniel Berger also shot 66. Kaymer, an 8-shot winner in the U.S. Open, opened with consecutive rounds of 65.
That was it. Nobody except Kaymer, Berger or Inkster has broken 67 at Pinehurst No. 2 in these dual national championships. Heady stuff for Inkster, already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and captain of the 2015 U.S. Solheim Cup team.
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With Inkster, forget all conventional wisdom about age. If she captures the Women's Open this year, she would be 10 years older than the previous oldest champion -- Babe Zaharias, who was 43 when she won in 1954.
Inkster also has vowed to end her U.S. Women's Open career here this year. She has played in 35 of them, more than any woman in golf history.
Here's hoping she wins and declines to defend her title. That would give her a unique position in major championship golf -- the woman who hung up her spikes after winning a third and final national championship in the United States.
On her way to 66, Inkster hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation. On the only green she missed, her ball was just one foot off the putting surface. Indeed she putted from that spot.
Inkster had one bogey, three-putting the 8th green from 30 feet. Her five birdies came at 1 (9-iron to 14 feet), 5 (wedge to 6 feet), 7 (wedges to 4 feet), 10 (greenside bunker shot to 15 feet), and 12 (wedge to 3 feet)
"I hit my irons really good," Inkster said. "I had a lot of chances for birdies, especially on the front side. The pins on the back were trickier. The only bad shot I hit all day was my second at 16, where I kind of drop kicked it, but it run up there."
Inkster is reunited this week with caddie Greg Johnston, who carried her bag during four of her seven major championships victories.
"He dumped me, but that's okay," Inkster said with a laugh. Johnston caddied for Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen after splitting with Inkster.
Inkster was asked, point blank, "When you get in this position, do you think like Tom Watson did a few years back at the British Open?"
She answered quickly, "No, I don't. 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. So tomorrow I'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."
On the back nine, Inkster moved within five shots of the lead and within three shots of second place. She finished the day tied for third, four shots behind co-leaders Amy Yang and Michelle Wie.
Asked if she might reconsider her declaration to end her U.S. Women's Open career, she was decisive.
"I've played in 35 of them. Is one more going to really make a difference?" she observed. "I don't think so. It's a grind. It's a lot of work. I'm good with my decision."