The sun lights up the tree on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach late in the afternoon on Friday. Ezra Shaw
The 78th US Women’s Open, in another first this week, moves to six hours of primetime coverage on NBC for the third round Saturday. With rookie Bailey Tardy holding a two-shot lead at seven under, here are seven storylines to follow at Pebble Beach:
How will the final pairing handle the pressure?
It’s a winless pairing anchoring the third round. Neither Tardy nor Allisen Corpuz have won yet on the LPGA Tour. Tardy, in her rookie season, has a best finish of T-23 in Hawaii back in April. Corpuz, at five under par going into the weekend, has limited experience with two top-fives in 2023.
She posted a T-3 in Singapore back in March and a T-4 at the Chevron Championship in April.
“I honestly still need to get a little more comfortable, I think, in contention,” Corpuz said. “So that’s really been the focus this year, just really trying to put myself into that spot and then hopefully learn how to convert as it keeps happening.”
Tardy planned to spend time with her family, heading up the coast to Big Sur for a dinner before the 455th player in the Rolex Rankings starts the third round at 1:36 p.m. Pacific.
“This is a dream, being at the top of the leaderboard in a US Open,” Tardy said.
Can defending champion Minjee Lee make a run?
The Australian is one of 10 players sitting eight behind Bailey’s lead at T-11. With the experience of seven LPGA victories, including two major titles, Lee maintained perspective on her opportunity to move up the leaderboard Saturday.
“I feel like I’m probably in a pretty good position right now,” Lee said. “Just I can be maybe a little bit more aggressive and, you know, maybe put up a score earlier than the girls. Maybe it won’t be as windy. Then see where I am after that.”
If Lee can cut into Tardy’s lead, she could position herself to become the first player to defend a US Women’s Open title since countrywoman and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb did it in 2000 and 2001.
Will the top players continue their turnaround?
Even with a testing Friday setup, some of the tour’s best players turned their tournaments around. Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko followed their first-round four-over-par 76s with a 73 and 71, respectively.
“I think just played a little bit better, but that’s weird,” Ko said. “That’s golf.”
With more difficult conditions expected over the weekend, the Nos. 2 and 3 in the Rolex Rankings have momentum heading into Saturday to claw back into contention.
How will the wind impact play?
Pebble Beach is already playing a tough, averaging almost four over par. Another challenge will arrive over the weekend, with possible wind gusts of up to 25 mph. Temperatures aren’t supposed to get out of the low 60s.
“You’re going to have to wear your jacket this weekend,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said.
The USGA’s Shannon Rouillard, who sets up the course, pointed out that the 13th and 14th tees may need to move up. Those two holes, in particular, play straight into that wind.
Can an amateur climb up the leaderboard?
An amateur has finished in the top 15 in the last six US Women’s Opens. Ingrid Lindblad won the low honours at Pine Needles in 2022 with a T-11 finish. Four amateurs made the cut at Pebble, with Ireland’s Aine Donegan leading at T-11 with a score of one over par. The LSU sophomore shot four-over 76 Friday.
“I’m pleased with how I finished,” Donegan said. “I finished with three pars and that was my goal, just try and get in with the same score, and luckily I did.”
The other three playing the weekend, Monet Chun, Benedetta Moresco and Amari Avery are all at T-26 and three over par.
Will Rose Zhang move into striking distance?
This week’s betting favourite sits eight strokes behind the leader at one over par. Zhang finished her morning wave one under 71. At that point, Zhang was T-22, aware of the weekend task ahead of her.
“I’ve been in this position before where you have to chase and it’s nothing new to me,” Zhang said after her round. “I’ll just be trying to do the same thing: Get my game plan and try to hit as many fairways and greens, because that will allow you to gain more birdie opportunities.”
Yet without taking a stroke, Zhang found herself finishing the day at T-11 when the afternoon wave fell back. There are now 10 players between Pebble’s women’s competitive course record-holder and the lead, a surmountable gap with another solid round.
Will the first seven holes be the easiest again?
As the wind picked up Friday, the front nine proved a more straightforward test for the field. Six of the easiest holes were from Nos. 1 through 7. The only one missing, the fifth, was the eighth easiest. The only two holes to play in red figures are the par 5s, the second (4.89) and the sixth (4.82).
Chasers must make hay at the start to chip away before hanging on through the difficult back nine to climb back into contention.