PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie West, two popular figures in women's golf despite being separated by 19 years and 67 wins, stopped to hug as they walked up the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach on Friday, their farewell to the U.S. Women's Open.
For Bailey Tardy, she had hope this is only the beginning.
Tardy picked a good time and a beautiful location to play her best golf. The 26-year-old LPGA rookie made eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day as part of her torrid start, and she held steady the rest of the day for a 4-under 68 and a two-shot lead.
Tardy has made only four cuts and hasn't finished in the top 20 her rookie season. Now she has the 36-hole lead at the biggest event in women's golf. Adding to her good timing was being the first one out, before the wind was strong enough for Pebble to start showing a nasty side.
“It was not as windy on my front nine as the back nine. Definitely took advantage of that,” Tardy said. “Then just was able to hold on, I guess, through the wind.”
Tardy was at 7-under 137, one of only six players who remain under par going into the weekend, with even stronger wind in the forecast. Of those six, only Nasa Hataoka faced the flag-snapping wind of the afternoon. Hataoka shot 74.
Rose Zhang went from thankful to making the cut to still very much in the mix. She had a 71 in the morning, and by the end of a long day, her 1-over 145 put her in a tie for 10th.
Most of the attention was on two players who had no chance of making the weekend.
Sorenstam, the 52-year-old Swede with 72 wins who retired in 2008, accepted an invitation because it's the first U.S. Women's Open at Pebble Beach, the most iconic of U.S. Open courses.
A three-time Women's Open champion, she hit her final drive onto the rocks left of the 18th fairway and finished with a double bogey for a 79.
“It’s a little bittersweet to finish that way but the memories are more than the shots,” she said.
Wie West, a dynamic figure known as much for competing against men as a teenager as her Women's Open title at Pinehurst No. 2, could only laugh as her 30-foot par putt dropped on the final hole. Neither of them made a birdie in two rounds.
Asked to describe her legacy, the 33-year-old Wie West said she hopes it was to inspire girls to make fearless decisions.
“If it feels right to do, go ahead and do it, and live out your wildest dreams,” she said after a 79.
Others joining their early departure were far bigger surprises.
Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in women's golf, missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and missed the cut. So did Lilia Vu, who won the first LPGA major of the year and shot 79-82. Also leaving was Lexi Thompson, who had two double bogeys and no birdies in her round of 79.
Now the stage gets turned over to an eclectic mix of players, most looking for their first major, some trying to simply win for the first time.
Tardy's only professional victory was two years ago on the LPGA's developmental tour. She is No. 455 in the world ranking. And she was not the least bit surprised when she walked off the 18th green leading Allisen Corpuz (70) and Hyo Joo Kim (71) by two shots.
“I've always believed in myself to win any tournament that I enter,” said Tardy, who played in college at Georgia. “I’m good enough to be here, and I’ve been on the LPGA, so I feel like I definitely have the game to hang with the best in the world.”
The best in the world have some work to do.
Second-ranked Nelly Korda shot 73 and made the cut with one shot to spare, leaving her 12 shots behind. Lydia Ko at No. 3 in the world was at 3-over 147 while playing one hole — the par-3 fifth — in 5-over par for two days.
“Apart from one hole, I played really solid,” Ko said.
Tardy has been a bit of a hard-luck case getting to the LPGA Tour, once missing out on a card by $343 on what is now the Epson Tour and twice more having close calls.
She played Pebble Beach last year for fun — who wouldn't? — and certainly knows the secret to scoring on days like these when the wind is more of a rumor. It began to pick up in the middle of her round, but she took advantage on the opening seven holes. That's where to score.
Tardy had four birdies along with her eagle, dropped her only shot from a bunker in front of the par-3 fifth green and even missed a 6-foot birdie attempt at No. 8. Her only mistake on the back nine was a long three-putt on the par-5 14th.
Leona Maguire of Ireland was primed to join her. Two behind going to the easier front nine, she bogeyed four of the next five holes and capped off a forgettable finish with a three-putt from 25 feet for a 40. She was six shots behind at 143, but very much in the game.
“Under par around here you always know you’re going to be in good shape,” she said. “Just made a few bad swings and kind of cost me, that early stretch on the front nine.”
Zhang was eight shots behind, but had only 10 players ahead of her with 36 holes to play.
“I've been in this position before where you have to chase and it’s nothing new to me,” she said. "I’ll just be trying to do the same thing. Try to hit as many fairways and greens, because that will allow you to gain more birdie opportunities. That’s all I can do.”