Friday is a night to catch your breath at the U.S. Women’s Open Championship Presented by ProMedica. Those who made the 36-hole cut can exhale a sigh of relief and develop a plan for the weekend. Those near the top of the leader board can try to find sleep while visions of a major championship dance in their heads. One thing is for certain: Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club will become more difficult over the next two days simply because it is the final two rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open. That pressure alone adds a degree of difficulty to the challenge.
This Donald Ross gem has proven to be every bit the test the players expected. The greens surrounded by collection areas that breed bogeys demand precise iron play, and that kind of precision becomes more elusive as the intensity of the weekend builds. Saturday is the round that sets the stage for Sunday’s finale. For those near the top, it’s about holding on. For those chasing, it’s about moving up.
Here are 3 Things to Know for Saturday’s Round 3 of the U.S. Women’s Open.
Those who qualified for the weekend are chasing Mina Harigae and Minjee Lee, who completed 36 holes at 9-under-par 133. Among those not currently among the top eight who could jump up the leader board on Moving Day are 2017 U.S. Women’s Open champion Sung Hyun Park at 138; Rolex Rankings No. 2 Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson at 139; and Lydia Ko at 141.
How far back is too far to still be in the hunt? Of the last 30 winners of this championship, 22 were inside the top 10 through 36 holes. When the U.S. Women’s Open was at Pine Needles in 1996, Annika Sorenstam was three strokes ahead going to the weekend and won by six strokes. In 2001, Karrie Webb was three strokes ahead going to the weekend and won by eight strokes. But in 2007, Cristie Kerr was six strokes behind after 36 holes and won by two strokes after shooting 66 on Saturday. That’s what Moving Day is all about.
Megan Khang, who is five strokes off the pace, knows what it’s like to be on the leader board at the U.S. Women’s Open. The 24-year-old daughter of Laotians who immigrated to Massachusetts finished T-4 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2021, fifth in 2020 at Champions Golf Club in Houston and T-10 at Shoal Creek in Alabama in 2018. She sits at 4-under-par 138 going into the weekend and she’s done it in a methodical fashion, hitting 26 of 28 fairways and 29 of 36 greens.
“We're just going to try to stick to our game plan, give ourselves chances, give ourselves fairways and greens, and when in doubt, par is never going to hurt you at a U.S. Women's Open,” Khang said. She followed 68-70 with 74 on Saturday last year and closed strong with a 70 on Sunday to finish two strokes out of the playoff won by Yuka Saso over Nasa Hataoka. She’ll try to do better in Round 3 this year.
Very quietly, Anna Nordqvist has placed herself on the brink of immortality after completing 36 holes at Pine Needles at 7-under-par 135, just two strokes back of the co-leaders. If she wins the U.S. Women’s Open, it would be her fourth different major championship. The 34-year-old Swede won the 2009 KPMG Women’s PGA, the 2017 Amundi Evian Championship and the 2021 AIG Women’s Open. The only women with four different LPGA majors are Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam and Inbee Park. Karrie Webb won five majors, taking the now defunct du Maurier Classic and the AIG Women’s Open, which replaced it as a major. Nordqvist has also not won the Chevron Championship.
In 13 starts in the U.S. Women’s Open, Nordqvist has only one top-10 finish. But that was a painful near-miss when she finished second in 2016 to Brittany Lang at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., after a penalty for inadvertently grounding her club in a bunker during the playoff. Erasing that memory would make victory here all the sweeter.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.