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Meechai takes U.S. Women's Open lead into weekend

Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Wichanee Meechai became the latest surprise in a U.S. Women’s Open filled with them. She started Friday with four straight birdies and matched the low score of the week with a 3-under 67 for a two-shot lead going into a weekend that won’t include Nelly Korda.

Meechai is a 31-year-old Thai whose only victory recognized by the women’s world ranking was nine years ago on the Taiwan LPGA. She had never finished in the top 10 in her 20 previous appearances in the majors.

She went from five shots ahead of Andrea Lee to two shots behind in a span of five holes. Meechai steadied herself with two birdies over the last six holes to finish at 4-under 136, two shots in front of Lee with only two other players under par.

A pair of former Women’s Open champions, Minjee Lee (69) and Yuka Saso (71) were three shots back at Lancaster Country Club.

“I feel like I might not be making a lot of birdies on the easier courses. I’m not that person,” Meechai said in trying to explain her 36-hole lead in a major. “I like when you need to think a lot, when you need to land it shorter and be patient.”

That worked to perfection on her opening four holes, all birdie putts inside 6 feet.

“I just picked the club that’s shorter and hit it hard,” she said.

The week started with a surprise announcement by Lexi Thompson that she will retire from a full schedule at the end of the year. Her 18th and most likely final U.S. Women’s Open ended early with rounds of 78-75.

It will end with Korda back home in Florida, missing the cut for first the time in nearly a year.

Korda got a small measure of revenge on the par-3 12th, where on Thursday she hit into the water three times and made a career-worst 10 on her way to an 80. This time the pin was to the back, not the front, and she came up so short with a chunky 8-iron and it appeared certain her golf ball would roll back into the water.

It was held up by a patch of grass. She jabbed a pitch to 20 feet and holed the par putt, smiled and offered a playful expletive at the green.

“I wanted to make a birdie to get my revenge on that hole, but par will do,” she said.

She should have saved those words for her golf. Korda, who came into the Women’s Open having won six of her last seven tournaments, ran off three straight birdies toward the end of the front nine to get in range of the cut.

But she didn’t hit the ball well off the tee, or from the fairway when given the chance. She had only four looks at birdie on the back nine, shot 70 and missed the cut by two.

“When I made those three birdies in a row, I wanted to make the cut,” Korda said. “I knew that I was kind of hovering around it, and I just couldn’t get anything going on the back.”

Also missing the cut were Rose Zhang, Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson and defending Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz.

Among those sticking around was 15-year-old Asterisk Talley — her first name is Greek for “little star” — who had 15 pars in her round of 71 and was in a group at 1-over 141 that included U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Megan Schofill.

Lee delivered a stretch even more impressive than Meechai, hers coming in the middle of the round. The Stanford alum was on the ropes and in a bunker on No. 1 — her 10th hole of the round — when her shot rolled true to a back pin and dropped for eagle.

Lee followed with three straight birdies, and suddenly was two clear of Meechai in the group behind her. Lee three-putted from 30 feet for bogey on No. 5, and failed to save par from a bunker on the par-3 eighth.

She will be in the last group Saturday, with Minjee Lee and Saso ahead of them and with far more experience in dealing with such a stern test.

Minjee Lee, whose two majors include a Women’s Open at Pine Needles two years ago, made consecutive bogeys at the turn and then played mistake-free the rest of the way. Saso, the Women’s Open champion at Olympic Club in 2021, steadied herself from a rocky start by playing bogey-free over her last 12 holes.

Most telling was Saso being asked to describe her best shot and Lee asked about the one shot she would like to have back. Both had to turn toward a scoring terminal showing their scorecards, needing to jog their memories about the rounds they had just completed.

That’s the kind of golf a Women’s Open, particularly on a traditional course like Lancaster, can generate. It’s about grinding, getting to the next hole and not doing anything to ruin a round.

And then there’s Meechai, delightfully self-deprecating about how she approaches this test.

“I’m the person who has no confidence at all,” she said. “I think about miss the cut because I know that I can shoot like 1 under and next day 8 over. It’s so easy for me. Trying not to think about it is the hardest part for me so that’s why I’m so nervous.”

Two other amateurs were among the 75 players to make the cut at 8-over 148. One of them was Adela Cernousek of France, a junior at Texas A&M who won the NCAA title two weeks ago. She opened with a 69 and was on the verge of shooting 80 and missing the cut until her chip smacked into the pin on her final hole and settled 2 feet away for par instead of rolling off the front of the green back into the fairway.


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