ROGERS, Ark. (AP) — It’s a story line the LPGA Tour has to love.
Michelle Wie, the 20-year-old former prodigy finally playing to her potential, versus Juli Inkster, the 50-year-old Hall of Famer hoping to become the oldest player to win on the tour.
“It’s going to be like Beauty and the Beast out there,” Inkster said. “I don’t have the pretty swing or whatever. I just try to get the ball in the hole.”
The stage is set for a fantastic finish Sunday at the Northwest Arkansas Championship. Wie shot a 7-under 64 on Saturday – playing her first nine holes in 7-under 28 – to take a three-stroke lead over Inkster (66), Yani Tseng (68) and Na Yeon Choi (68). Tseng, a two-time major winner this year, also will be in the final group.
Wie, trying for her second straight victory after winning the Canadian Women’s Open late last month, had the lowest nine-hole score on the LPGA Tour this year. She finished with a two-round score of 10 under.
At one point, she appeared ready to make a run at a 59, but Wie said that wasn’t her focus.
“That actually didn’t even cross my mind at all,” Wie said. “I just focused on the next shot and trying to get myself birdie opportunities.”
Wie started her round on No. 10 and birdied five of her first seven holes. She holed out from 80 yards for a birdie on No. 12, and her approach on No. 18, a 515-yard par 5, popped in and out of a bunker before settling on the green.
It was that kind of day for Wie. She then made an uphill putt of about 35 feet for an eagle.
“It was a fun round today, I have to say,” Wie said.
She made a tap-in birdie on No. 2 to move to 8 under on the day through 11 holes, but she slowed down a bit after that and will have to hold on Sunday.
Wie said the heat was a factor as her round wore on.
After beginning her career as a long-hitting phenom who tried to challenge the men, Wie is showing signs of finally living up to the hype. She’s made all but two cuts since the start of 2009, and she earned her first career victory in November at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
On Sunday, she’ll be part of a tantalizing matchup with Inkster, who was in contention last month at the Safeway Classic before being disqualified with a round remaining. During a lengthy wait with a hole backed up, she affixed a weight to a club and took some practice swings to stay loose, and a viewer watching the broadcast brought the violation to the attention of tournament officials.
“I really had some good vibes going and I just felt good about my game,” Inkster said. “Then that happened, and I couldn’t play. It was frustrating.”
Inkster joined the tour in 1983, six years before Wie was born.
“She’s obviously playing very well and she’s playing with a lot of confidence, so I can’t really see her messing up,” Inkster said. “You’re going to have to go out there and shoot a round like she shot today.”
Tseng, playing alongside Wie, patiently plodded along and was able to stay within striking distance of her.
“She played awesome today,” Tseng said. “I told my caddie, ‘Aw, she took all my birdies.'”
Wie played the four par 5s in 5 under Saturday, a six-stroke improvement from the first round. Inkster nearly made a long eagle putt of her own on No. 18, but it slid off the edge of the hole.
Several LPGA players have shot 29 this year for nine holes, but Wie’s 28 was the first. Ji Young Oh shot 7 under on a par-37 nine at the Safeway Classic.