(Reuters) - American Michelle Wie recovered from a dire four-hole stretch to claw back into a tie for the lead with South Korean Amy Yang after the third round at the U.S. Women’s Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina on Saturday.
On a day when veteran Juli Inkster charged into equal third place, moving her within striking distance to make history by becoming the oldest Women’s Open champion, Wie frittered away a chance to take a stranglehold on the championship.
She dropped four shots in four holes from the par-four 11th but settled down to par home for a two-over-par 72 at Pinehurst No. 2.
“My swing definitely got away from me for a little bit. Tempo was off a bit,” the 24-year-old from Hawaii, whose problems started when she hooked her drive into the pines for a double bogey, told reporters.
“I just grinded today, grinded really hard. That's the way you have to do it on this golf course. It's a battle out there (and) it's going to be like that tomorrow again.”
Yang shot a 68 to catch Wie at two-under 208, four strokes clear of American Inkster (66), Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow (69), South Korean Choi Na Yeon (71) and Australian amateur Minjee Lee (72).
Yang, who has one LPGA victory, got up-and-down from greenside bunkers to save par at the 16th and 17th holes, only to bogey the last after misjudging her approach shot and taking three putts from short of the green.
“I'm much better at controlling my emotion and controlling the nervous feeling, because I already experienced how it will be like,” she said, referring to her runner-up finish two years ago.
But the day belonged to two-time champion Inkster, whose 66 was the best round of the week.
Aged nearly 54, she could become the oldest Open champion by more than 10 years, but is trying not to think about it.
“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,” said Inkster, who played her first Women’s Open in 1978, more than 11 years before Wie and Yang were born.
“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.”
While Inkster moved up, fellow American Lexi Thompson, winner of the first major of the year, backpedalled with a 74 to fall five shots behind.
Thompson was only one stroke behind Wie after seven holes, but it all went horribly wrong when she recorded consecutive double bogeys at the next two holes.
Her approach shot into the par-four eighth rolled down an embankment left of the green, from where she hit a terrible bump-and-run that failed to make it up the hill.
At the par-three ninth she hit her tee shot beyond the green and, afforded a free drop from near a TV tower, dropped her ball into a divot in the drop zone.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry)