KOHLER, Wis. -- Blackwolf Run howled and showed its teeth Saturday. It still doesn't seem quite as vicious as it did in 1998.
Fourteen years after the central Wisconsin course humbled the world's best female players in the U.S. Women's Open, Pete Dye's diabolical design is playing easier.
U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
The 2012 U.S. Women's Open is being played over the same composite course at Blackwolf Run as it was in 1998.
In 1998, Se Ri Pak and Jenny Chuasiriporn tied for the 72-hole lead at 6-over par, with Pak winning the title in a dramatic 20-hole playoff. The cut line in the Open on Friday in its return to Blackwolf Run was only 5 over.
The course is nearly 500 yards longer today but the USGA gave players a break by making the long seventh hole a par 5 instead of par 4.
Despite being nearly 6,900 yards long, players negotiated it with relative ease the first two days -- including Michelle Wie on Friday with a 6-under 66.
Although wind up to 20 mph and tougher pin placements led to higher scores Saturday, South Korea's Na Yeon Choi shot a 7-under 65 to take a commanding lead at 8 under. She tied the third-lowest score in U. S. Women's Open history.
NBC commentator Gary Koch said Saturday there are several reasons why Blackwolf Run is playing easier. Although Koch said the rough is not as long or as thick, he believes the main difference is in the golfers and their high-tech clubs.
"The equipment has gotten a lot better since 1998 and these ladies are better athletes because they work out more," he said.
Koch said female players are hitting the ball so much farther that the course is playing shorter for them despite being longer. He said in Wie's round, "she hit some sort of wedge into about six of the eighteen holes. That creates scoring opportunities."
Another factor is the mental toughness young players are developing due to more serious junior competition.
"Certainly these young players have a lot amore high quality experience than the younger players did in 1998," Koch said. "That helps them deal with a course like this."
INTERNATIONAL APPEAL: The U. S. Women's Open has golfers from so many countries that it looks at times like the United Nations.
The United States has by far the largest contingent with 71, but women from 26 other countries are also competing at Blackwolf Run.
South Korea is second with 27, Japan third with eight. Spain, Canada, Sweden have five each, and Taiwan was four.
There are also golfers from countries not often associated with the sport, including Argentina, Colombia, the Netherlands, Paraguay and Thailand.
China has Shanshan Feng, who in June won the Wegmans LPGA Championship to become the first mainland Chinese golfer to capture a major.
"The golf history is about thirty years in China and now it's about getting more and more people to play," she said.
DIVOTS: Top-ranked Yani Tseng shot a 6-over 78 on Saturday to fall out of contention in the Open, the only major she has failed to capture. "I just didn't do it," she said. "I shot terrible today." ... Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko shot a 7-over 79 on Saturday to move to 9 over and leads Alison Lee by three shots for low amateur honors. Ko said some of the pressure was off when she made the cut. "I've never missed a cut in a tournament, and I would be kind of gutted if I did it at the U. S. Open. And it's better experience if you play on the weekend, too." ... While there were only five rounds under par in the third round, there were 19 scores in the 80s.