VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Stacy Lewis enjoys being the No. 1-ranked female player in the world, but she relishes winning major championships even more.
Lewis is in her element at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s Course No. 2. Not surprising, either, is that Lewis owns the first-round lead.
“Once you get one [major] under your belt, it’s contagious, you just want to win more and more,” said Lewis, who has two major titles, but lacks a U.S. Women’s Open. “I just have geared my game towards majors. I love it when it’s hard. I love it when you have to grind. I love it when you have to make 8- and 10-footers for par. It suits me and my game.”
Lewis, a 29-year-old Texan, shot a 3-under-par 67 on a day when the field scoring average was 75.73 when play was suspended at 7:55 p.m. EDT due to inclement weather. Thirty players have not finished play. Opening- and second-round play will resume at 6:45 a.m. on Friday.
Lewis leads by one stroke over Michelle Wie and two strokes over 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu and Australians Katherine Kirk and Minjee Lee, the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion.
At even par, two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Karrie Webb is part of a quintet that includes 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer, U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champions Mina Harigae (2007) and Candie Kung (2001) and Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland, who turned pro just before this championship. Harigae and Meadow have two holes remaining; Kung has one.
Two-time and reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, who won in 2008 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., and last year at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., opened with a disappointing 6-over 76.
Lewis’ round was a display of accuracy. In signing a bogey-free scorecard, she missed one fairway and one green in regulation. Starting her round at No. 10, Lewis rolled in birdie putts of 15 and 6 feet, respectively, at the par-4 14th and 16th holes. After nine pars, Lewis made an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth hole.
Lewis mastered the Donald Ross-designed gem from tee to green, which made negotiating the iconic crowned greens easier.
“I wasn’t struggling to make par all day,” said Lewis, whose best U.S. Women’s Open finish was a tie for third in 2008. “I was really hitting the shots I needed to hit. I was in control of how far I was hitting it. So that’s what made it easy.”
Players throughout the morning spoke of how the course, which played to 6,296 yards, was conducive for scoring. Few, however, took advantage. Of the five players under par, three, including Lewis, came from the morning groupings.
In the afternoon, Creamer likened the firm and dry course to “playing a lot like a British Open,” she said.
“I think you had to shoot a good score the way the course was set up,” said Webb, who won the second of her successive U.S. Women’s Opens at nearby Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in 2001. “If you didn’t today, I think you would be playing catch-up all week.”
That also means catching Lewis, who has 11 top-10 finishes, including a pair of wins, in 13 LPGA starts this season.
“I think the course is enough [to think about],” Webb said. “I don’t think you can really focus on any one person until the back nine on Sunday. I think this course suits Stacy, as well. She’s a really good putter when she gets it going. And I expected to see her shoot a good score today.”
Wie gave the best chase. After going out in 1-over 36, the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion made four birdies on her inward nine, including one at the par-4 18th.
“Any round under par, I’ll take it,” said Wie, whose only top-10 finish in the U.S. Women’s Open is a tie for third in 2006. “It was a grind out there. It will probably be a grind the next three days, but I’ll take it.”
Wie has embraced the playing of back-to-back U.S. Opens at No. 2 and took advantage of the opportunity to walk inside the ropes during Sunday’s U.S. Open final round. She also studied the yardage books of Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley, who tied for second and fourth, respectively.
“They put some really good notes in for me,” said Wie, who missed the cut in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii in 2004 and 2007. “I did a lot of homework. I think it’s the most homework I’ve ever done on a golf course. Just kind of color-coordinated everything. Just took the notes from both of the books. I definitely learned a lot from looking at those yardage books just seeing what they do.”
Nearly stealing the first day’s headlines, but not Lewis’ lead, was 11-year-old Lucy Li.
The youngest qualifier in championship history displayed a game long on talent and maturity. After making double bogey on her opening hole – the 455-yard, par-5 10th – Li settled her nerves en route to an 8-over 78.
“She looks 11, but she doesn’t talk like she’s 11 and she doesn’t hit the ball like she’s 11,” said playing partner Catherine O’Donnell, a 24-year-old Symetra Tour player who also shot 78.
Li, licking a creamsicle afterward during her media interview in the 96-degree heat, appeared nonplussed by the attention.
“I’m happy I broke 80, because I got two doubles and a triple and that can really ruin a score. But I’m glad I got it back after that,” said Li, who kept her round in perspective by pointing out that she played 15 holes in 1 over par.
Lewis was happy as well, but for completely different reasons.
Leading Ladies Golf Scores (par 70):-
1 LEWIS, Stacy -3 F* -3
2 WIE, Michelle -2 F -2
T3 KIRK, Katherine -1 F* -1
T3 RYU, So Yeon -1 F -1
T3 LEE, Minjee (a) -1 F* -1
T6 WEBB, Karrie E F E
T6 CREAMER, Paula E F* E
T6 KUNG, Candie E 17 E
Source: LPGA Tour