Ward Plays Way Into Contention July 9, 2010 By Stuart Hall

Oakmont, Pa. — By no means is Wendy Ward presuming that she will win this 65th U.S. Women’s Open. But if history is any predictor, mediocre play has preceded each of her four LPGA Tour victories.

In 1997, for instance, after five missed cuts and zero top-10 finishes in 23 previous starts, Ward won her final start of the year, the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic. Nearly five months later, Ward, in her fourth start of ’98, won the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open. Her 2001 win at the Wendy’s Championship for Children came the week after she missed the cut at the Weetabix Women’s British Open.

I haven’t had the best start [to 2010], that’s for sure, said Ward, who has only one top-15 finish in 11 starts. Looking for an

Wendy Ward waves after making her putt on three during the --- b_10USWO__J5F3017
 Coming off a missed cut last week, Wendy Ward had no reason to believe she would be a contender at this week's Women's Open. (John Mummert/USGA)
omen?  One of her missed cuts came at last week’s Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Toledo, Ohio.

For me, in what appears to be poor or average play, there are those rounds that are so close, but the scorecards don’t reflect that. So it’s nice to see some of those putts falling and see some of the rewards of things I’ve been working on.

On a 36-hole leaderboard that shows seven Americans among the top 14, Ward, the 1994 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, is clearly in the mix. A second-round 73 that leaked a little oil on her second nine – three bogeys in a five-hole stretch – placed her at 3-over 145, tied for eighth and three shots back of Sakura Yokomine and Paula Creamer.

Two days ago, I would have taken that [position] running, said Ward, 37, of San Antonio, Texas, who has never finished higher than 19th in this championship. We’ve still got 36 holes, so there’s no pressure … yet. The course puts pressure on you every shot. It doesn’t let up whether it’s a tee shot, an approach shot or even the putts. There’s no let-up.

In her first two rounds Ward has hit 64 percent of the Oakmont fairways and 75 percent of the greens in regulation. Putting has been her nemesis. Of the three second-round bogeys, two were a result of being too aggressive.

Out here, you’re trying constantly to leave yourself the better second putt, and one was a push and one was a good putt that just didn’t go in, she said.

As for what the afternoon and evening holds, Ward is treating Saturday like a day of Solheim Cup competition – which she has played twice for the United States – when  she had to play back-to-back matches.

And for me, right now, it’s just halftime, she said.

Ward may also want to believe her 36-hole performance has been run-of-the-mill. That may just bode well for a strong Sunday finish.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.