PINEHURST, N.C. -- All right, this is just what we've been waiting for. The best women golfers in the world took to Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday. And after all the talk about how they might play this course -- and how the setup would compare with last week's U.S. Open -- how did they actually do?
"I think we put on a great show," said Michelle Wie, who shot a 2-under 68 and is a stroke behind the leader, fellow American Stacy Lewis, at the U.S. Women's Open. "There are a couple of red numbers out there. There are a lot of people hovering around even par.
"I love this idea. I love that we are playing on the same stage as the men. I think it's really interesting. It makes it very exciting. I'm personally so excited to just be here at Pinehurst."
It was pretty easy for Wie to say that because she had a very good day, including a birdie on her closing hole, No. 18. And Lewis had an exceptionally good round, with three birdies and no bogeys. Lewis is now No. 1 in the world, and she definitely looked like it Thursday.
"I liked watching the men last week, because I like to hit a cut a lot like [Martin] Kaymer does," Lewis said of the U.S. Open winner. "It was nice coming into this week, knowing that my plan was going to work on this golf course."
Not everyone had the same plan. Or if they did, they weren't able to execute it as well as Lewis, who is seeking her first title at this event. Five players finished in red numbers (below par). Five others were at even par. But some prominent players found Pinehurst to be a puzzle.
Defending champion Inbee Park of South Korea shot a 6-over 76 and talked about her round kind of like she was in a car that spun out of control, leaving her sitting dazed in the median, wondering how she got there.
"I just don't know what happened," Park said. "I was just really shocked how the golf course was playing. I didn't feel like I played horrible, but the score is bad. It's easy to make a lot of big numbers out there."
Things went even worse for some other stars. Take Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who shot the same score -- a 78 -- as the 11-year-old wunderkind Lucy Li.
Or American Jessica Korda, who has won twice on the LPGA Tour this year but shot a 79 Thursday. Ouch.
The last two Americans to win the U.S. Women's Open, Paula Creamer (2010) and Cristie Kerr (2007) shot rounds of 70 and 76, respectively. Creamer is still right in the hunt. She was one of five players to finish at even par before the horns sounded around 7:30 p.m., forcing about 30 competitors to suspend their rounds because of thunderstorms overtaking the area.
"We can hit all the shots," Creamer said. "We can put the ball in the spot where you want to. It's just you have to do it."
How is that different than any other week? Mostly because -- as is usually the case at this major championship -- players can't afford to be too aggressive. At many tour stops, you either successfully fire at pins or you plan on doing something else with your weekend.
At the U.S. Women's Open, especially at a difficult course like Pinehurst, you have to be conservative enough to not sabotage yourself. But also not afraid to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them.
Australian Karrie Webb is a two-time U.S. Women's Open champion, including a victory at this event in 2001 when it was at nearby Pine Needles. She is in the group tied at even par 70, and at age 39 she still believes she can win another major. So far, so good.
"The course is set up a little shorter than I think we would have expected," Webb said. "I think the USGA had to be a little bit cautious. I think they were sort of just seeing how we handled it. And they'll make their adjustments."
The players will have to do the same, but at least some of the mystique is over. For all the buildup, Pinehurst No. 2 is definitely a test, but not one that everyone is going to flunk.