SOUTHERN PINES, N.C.(AP) Michelle Wie was in good company at the U.S. Women’s Open, but in the worst way.
In a rugged start to the biggest event in women’s golf, the 17-year-old from Hawaii continued her free fall Thursday by hitting only four fairways and matching her highest score ever in this championship with an 82.
“I know I’m a better player than this,” Wie said.
Perhaps even more shocking was the player one shot worse – Karrie Webb, a seven-time major champion who won the U.S. Women’s Open the last time it was played at Pine Needles in 2001. Webb failed to make a birdie, had only seven pars and walked off with an 83, her highest score ever on the LPGA Tour.
“I have no excuses. I’m not that kind of player,” Webb said. “Do you think I had any idea I’d shoot 83? It was a terrible round, one of the worst days of my career.”
Angela Park was among seven players from the early starters who broke par, leading the way with a 3-under 68. The 18-year-old rookie birdied her first three holes and was 4 under for most of the round until hitting into the pines on the tough 17th hole, pitching out and missing her 25-foot par putt.
It was the second straight major Park was atop the leaderboard after one round. She was tied for the lead at the LPGA Championship three weeks ago, and eventually finished fifth.
“Maybe this week will be different,” said Park, who was born in Brazil to South Korean parents and grew up in California.
Alexis Thompson, the 12-year-old who became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history, and defending champion Annika Sorenstam were among the late starters. Both had played only a few holes when thunderstorms moved into the area, stopping play for more than three hours. Play was to resume at 6:30 p.m. EDT, meaning neither would finish their round.
Overnight rain slightly softened Pine Needles, but that only made the course longer, and the greens remains dangerous as ever because of the way the edges drop off into swales, typical of many Donald Ross designs.
And maybe it’s the pressure of playing for the biggest prize that brought so many high scores from so many notable players.
Suzann Pettersen, coming off her first major at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, was 7 over after her first seven holes, but somehow managed to calm herself with enough birdies after the turn to escape with a 76.
Se Ri Pak, headed for the Hall of Fame in November, was 5 over par through 10 holes until she turned that into a 74.
At a U.S. Women’s Open, that’s not all bad.
And perhaps that’s why Kraft Nabisco champion Morgan Pressel and Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the world still seeking her first major, were full of smiles when they walked off Pine Needles at even-par 71.
“I’m doing good so far,” Ochoa said. “Playing in a U.S. Open, it’s always good to be around par.”
She got there in the most peculiar fashion.
Ochoa was hitting fairways and greens, always a good recipe at this tournament, when she found a fairway bunker on the 14th and had 195 yards to the hole. She figured her caddie wanted her to hit 7-wood, but Ochoa wanted a 5-wood.
“I had a really good feeling,” she said. “I said, ‘Just trust me, I like this one.’ And I hit it perfect.”
She heard the crowd cheer when it hit the green, and it got louder as the ball approached the cup, dropping for eagle.
“It was very special,” Ochoa said.
A good break turned into a rotten one on the 440-yard 17th, when Ochoa was one shot out of the lead. She hit a 7-wood that jumped out of the rough and sailed over the green. But instead of banging off the grandstand, it shot through the two sets of bleachers, bounding over the pine needles, crossing a small path and settling just beyond the out-of-bounds stakes.
It was a two-stroke penalty, and Ochoa reloaded with a 4-iron just short of the green, getting up-and-down for double bogey.
“A little bit of bad luck,” Ochoa said. “But nothing you can do, and I’m really happy with my round.”
Pressel was happy when she woke up, reached down to feel her ankle and felt no swelling. She was limping Wednesday from a spider bite, but there was that typical spring in her step at this championship, and she was steady as ever. She recovered from consecutive bogeys early in her round and was right where she wanted to be.
Wie, however, looked as though she wanted to be anywhere but Pine Needles. Even after she rapped in a 2-foot par putt for her 82nd stroke of the round, she barely mustered a smile.
It was similar to the 83 she shot in the third round at the LPGA Championship, where she finished in last place by 10 shots with her highest 72-hole score as an amateur or a pro. She played without a brace on her left wrist, and her injury seemed to be the least of her worries the way she slashed out of the Bermuda rough, often the case from hitting only four fairways.
“All I need is the confidence to play well,” she said. “And I just need to see one round where all my shots are where I want them to be. Then after that, it’s a done deal. I just need to see it.”
But she also seemed to be in denial that her game is in disrepair. It was her 21st consecutive round without breaking par against men or women, and tied her highest score in the U.S. Women’s Open. She also shot 82 in the final round at Cherry Hills two years ago.
“It’s very frustrating because I know I played better than this,” Wie said. “It’s just a very fine line between shooting 69 and shooting what I shot today.”