PINEHURST, N.C. — The LPGA Tour's second major of the year began to look like its first one Friday.
Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson were the only players under par going into the weekend at the U.S. Women's Open, with Wie leading by three shots after a second straight 2-under 68 had her at 4-under 136 on Pinehurst No. 2. The two set up a third-round pairing today that brought back memories of the final round of April's Kraft Nabisco Championship in which they were paired and Thompson soundly beat Wie for her first major title.
Wie held it together Friday with two key par putts and finished with back-to-back birdies. It was the first time Wie, 24 and in her 11th Open, had led a major after 36 holes and the first time she had led after the second round of any tournament since 2010.
"I can't complain," said Wie, who has not won a major. "End of the day (Thursday), I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice. … It's a grind out there. It's not easy."
Wie twice thought her shots were going off the turtleback greens, and twice she relied on her table-top putting stance to make long par saves. She finished with a 6-iron that set up a 12-foot birdie putt and a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth.
Asked what she was most impressed with in her round, Wie said the way she and caddie Duncan French navigated the track. "I think it's course management," she said. "I think my caddie and I did a great job. … We just played it safe on a lot of holes, where you just can't really go for the pins. I think we did a good job of being aggressive and playing it safe."
Thompson powered her way out of the sand and weeds and ran off three straight birdies in her back nine, on Nos. 3, 4 and 5, to match Wie and Sakura Yokomine for the day's lowest score.
"(Friday) went very well for me," said Thompson, 19. "I just stayed within one shot at a time and did my routine and had fun in between shots … didn't really get stressed out about the bad shots. … I think that's all about U.S. Women's Opens — you just have to stay patient."
Pinehurst No. 2 wasn't in much of a giving mood on another warm day in the North Carolina sandhills, with a brief shower in the middle of the afternoon that didn't do much to soften a dry, crusty course.
First-round leader Stacy Lewis bogeyed her first hole in a wild round of six bogeys and three birdies. She shot 73 to sit tied for third at par 140 with Amy Yang (69) and Australian Minjee Lee (73), an 18-year-old amateur.
"I hung around," Lewis said, "and that's what you've got to do at this tournament."
Lucy Li, at 11 the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history, started with a double bogey for the second straight day and shot another 78 to miss the cut of 9-over 149 by seven shots. She birdied the par-4 14th — her favorite moment of the tournament — and closed with pars on three of her final four holes.
"I'm really happy with how I bounced back from the big numbers," Li said.
Seminole's Brittany Lincicome, one of 30 players who didn't get to complete the first round Thursday because of severe weather, started by finishing her final hole with double bogey for 7-over 77, then shot par 70 in the second round to make the cut.
Michelle Wie 68-68 136 -4
Lexi Thompson 71-68 139 -1
Amy Yang 71-69 140 E
Minjee Lee (a) 69-71 140 E
Stacy Lewis 67-73 140 E
Paul Creamer 80-72 142 +2
Se Ri Pak 76-69 145 +5
Brittany Lincicome 77-70 147 +7
Lucy Li* (a) 78-78 156 +16
*didn't make +9 cut (a) amateur
Today's third round
TV: 3 p.m., Ch. 8
Weather: Shower or thunderstorms, high 91, 58 percent chance of rain