ROGERS, Ark. (AP) – Whether it’s because of her improved play or the reason for it, Michelle Wie appears as comfortable on and off the golf course as at any time in her career.
Wie continued her season-long surge on the LPGA Tour on Saturday, shooting her second straight 5-under 66 to take a two-shot lead in the suspended second round of the NW Arkansas Championship.
The performance put the U.S. Women’s Open champion within a round of back-to-back wins for the first time in her LPGA Tour career, not that she showed any signs of stress after reaching 10 under overall.
In fact, shortly after surging into the lead at Pinnacle Country Club, Wie joined PGA Tour pros Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley as part of a social media challenge in dumping a bucket of ice water on herself on the driving range.
Yes, life is good at the moment for Wie.
“I think it comes hand in hand,” Wie said about her winning and revamped attitude. “… I played really well toward the end of the year last year … took a lot of time off, took about a month and a half. So, I just felt really refreshed, and I think it comes hand in hand.”
All 72 players in the afternoon session were unable to finish on Saturday because of thunderstorms, with second-round play expected to finish early Sunday before the final round begins later in the morning.
Before the rain arrived, the morning pairings were once again left chasing Wie – who earned her first major victory at the U.S. Women’s Open last week at Pinehurst after winning earlier in the season in her home state of Hawaii.
So Yeon Ryu, paired with Wie, was second at 8 under after her second straight 67, while Suzann Pettersen, Chella Choi and Line Vedel were three strokes back. Pettersen had a 67, Choi shot 65, and Vedel had five holes left.
Top-ranked and local favorite Stacy Lewis was four shots behind at 6 under, a week after finishing a shot behind Wie at Pinehurst. The two are training and practice partners in Florida, and Wie couldn’t help but challenge her friend to the ice bucket shower after her dousing.
“Michelle’s obviously playing some really good golf,” Lewis said. “I’m going to have to shoot a good number tomorrow. … At least I put a good number up today, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Lewis made the early charge Saturday to close within a shot of first-round leader Alena Sharp, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd – where Lewis played collegiately.
For the second straight day, however, Wie saved her best for the back.
She jumped into contention with a 4-under 31 on the back nine on Friday. After teeing off on the back nine Saturday, she once again closed with a flurry – birdieing four of her final seven holes to shoot a 4-under 32 and surge into the lead.
She putted 29 times on Saturday, a day after needing 28 in her opening round using her more hunched-over style.
“These days, Michelle’s on fire,” Ryu said. “I played with her today and yesterday, and her putting was awesome. I think that’s why she could win a major tournament.”
Wie put the finishing touch on her round – and quest for a second straight tournament victory – with a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 9 that put her within reach of back-to-back wins.
“I just want to kind of get through tomorrow,” Wie said. “But at the same time, it is definitely in the back of my mind … If I can get it done, hopefully it will happen.”
Wie held off Lewis by a shot to win her first major title in the U.S Women’s Open. Playing a group behind Lewis on Saturday, Wie bogeyed her second hole, No. 11, and recovered with a birdie on the par-5 14th.
She followed that with a second straight birdie on a par 5, getting up and down off the fringe on No. 18 to reach 6 under. Her birdie spree followed on the front nine, with large galleries following both Lewis and Wie.
Lewis followed a sluggish first round in which she putted 31 times by needing only 24 putts on Saturday. She stumbled with a bogey out of the greenside bunker on the par-3 fourth hole before recovering with birdies on No. 5 and 9.
She’ll need more of the same if she or anyone else is to catch Wie on Sunday.
“It’s going to have to be something pretty low,” Lewis said. “The way Michelle and a lot of those girls play, they’re not really going to come back to us.”