A game for all ages
During her pre-tournament press conference Wednesday, two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and 53-year-old Juli Inkster said if she played her game at the 2014 version at Pinehurst No. 2, she could finish in the top 10 or 15 players even though she barely plays anymore and hasn’t earned a top 10 in this tournament since 2006.
Her verdict on Saturday afternoon: “So far.”
Inkster shot a near-spotless 66 on Saturday, the best round of the tournament, to move to 2-over for the championship, tied for third four shots behind co-leaders Amy Yang and Michelle Wie, in what she said is her last appearance at a U.S. Women’s Open.
It was quite a bounce-back from the 75 she shot on Friday.
“I had a really good round today,” she said. “This game is so weird. You never know. It’s like, the first day I played great. Yesterday I played horrible. Today I played great. So hopefully
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I’m going to break the pattern and have a good one tomorrow.”
Inkster had five birdies on what is traditionally known as “moving day,” the day when players differentiate themselves from the rest of the field by playing well enough to move up the leaderboard, stay strong atop it or fall down it.
She went up. Inkster opened with a birdie on the difficult first hole, a hole that had surrendered just 23 birdies in the first two days of the tournament, by draining a 15-foot putt. She had short putts for birdies on holes No. 5 and 7 before three-putting on No. 8 to drop a shot.
But Inkster went right back at it on the back nine, with birdies on 10 and 12. On the tenth hole, a par five, she hit her second shot into the bunker, from where she chipped to 15 feet. Another birdie putt. On hole No. 12, her approach shot fell three feet from the hole for an easy birdie.
All of a sudden, she finds herself in the conversation on Sunday.
“I always think I can be competitive, I just don’t play that much anymore,” she said. “I still hit the ball relatively good, it’s just my concentration. I hit a few loose ones and miss a couple short putts, and you just can’t win that way. And that’s kind of what I do.”
Not on Saturday all that much. She actually made enough short par putts to make just one bogey on a course which was averaging a little over five per round during the first two days. She hit 13 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
This creates some special drama for the final round. If Inkster can keep her play going today, she just might replicate Tom Watson’s surprising 2009 Open Championship. Watson, who was 59 at the time and won five Open Championships, the last in 1983, had an eight-foot par putt to win on the 72nd hole on Sunday, but missed it and lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Inkster said she can’t be thinking in that vein this week.
“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,” she said. “So, tomorrow I’ve got to come out and make the shots. And if I’m tied for the lead coming up 18, then maybe I’ll think about it.”
Nicole Castrale, a former LPGA Tour winner who missed the cut, is Inkster’s roommate for the week.
“She’s a mom and obviously a Hall of Famer, but Juli is just Juli,” Castrale said. “What you see is what you get. She’s very real. She has a huge heart. She’s always trying to just give insight about golf and events and just life in general, being a mom.”
Well, this 53-year-old mom of two is four shots off the lead at the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, 12 years after her last victory in this tournament, her last major.