Steady as she goes for Wie at Nabisco
|Michelle Wie photo gallery|
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — In the midst of the best female golfers in the world at the Kraft Nabisco Championship is an audacious 16-year-old from Hawai'i who, mathematically anyway, has the best chance of chasing down Lorena Ochoa this weekend to win a major title.
Michelle Wie did nothing outrageous yesterday. There was nothing outrageously good or bad in the second-round 71 that kept her four shots behind Ochoa going into this morning's round at Mission Hills Country Club. All that is outrageous is that this Punahou junior has a realistic shot at winning a major championship in her 27th tour start, if she can finish her homework in time.
On a day when the entire LPGA was knocked into neutral by wind blasts, 71 turned out to be a better sum than its 1-under-par parts. It was one of just 11 sub-par scores at a Dinah Shore Tournament Course that was chilled to the point of gloves and blankets by the time Wie finished just before dark.
"The conditions were very tough today," Wie said. "You just couldn't move up the leaderboard. Being this cold, at least for me, actually, with the conditions, it was very hard to shoot another 65 or 66 out there. I'm very happy with the way I played today."
Wie did everything she had to do, with the exception of a pair of three-putt bogeys. So did Ochoa, who followed up Thursday's tournament-record 62 with a round of 71 she might have liked better.
"It's just amazing how easy it was yesterday and today how hard I worked for 1-under par," Ochoa said. "It's a huge difference, but I'm really pleased with my round today."
Wie is alone in second. Karrie Webb (68) and Seon-Hwa Lee (69) are five back of Ochoa's 11-under 133. All four are desperately seeking victory for diverse reasons.
Ochoa, the 2003 Rookie of the Year, is the fastest to win $3 million in LPGA history. She has three wins, including one last June. But her lingering memories are of five runner-up finishes and a few well-documented final-round failures in the past year. She fell in a playoff at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in February. A week later at the Fields Open in Hawai'i, Ochoa bogeyed the last two holes to finish one back of Wie in fourth place.
Lee, a 20-year-old rookie, finished one ahead of Wie at Ko Olina. But she lost a playoff to Meena Lee and is still trying to prove she can transfer her success on the Futures Tour last year, where she was first on the money list, to the Big Show.
Webb, a 31-year-old Australian, has been there and done that. She was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame last year. She has 30 LPGA wins, including six majors, but has won just twice since 2002.
"I'm out here to win," Webb said. "I'm not out here just to make up the numbers. I think the work I've done, I feel like I'm good enough to play as good as I did five or six years ago. But I think the difference is now that I might really enjoy it and ... not that I never appreciated it, I just didn't understand how good I was playing. Now, if I get that sort of form going, I think I'll really enjoy it."
For all Wie's success — the five top-three finishes in her last eight LPGA starts, the sub-par scores on the PGA Tour, the quarterfinal appearance against the men at last year's U.S. Public Links — she knows she needs to win to silence the cynics and soothe her own soul.
That is what this week is all about, and now this weekend.
Webb caught and passed Wie yesterday when she eagled the 15th hole from 152 yards out. But the Australian bogeyed the 17th and Wie tenaciously hung on despite struggling to hit approach shots close. She missed just four fairways and three greens in regulation, but had just three birdie looks from within 15 feet. She made two.
Wie was even par at the turn, playing the back nine first with a bogey at 13 and birdie at 16, after sinking four-foot par putts in between. She got to 7-under when she birdied the par-5 second hole — the only par-5 she has birdied — for the second time in two days. She gave that back with a three-putt from 30 feet on the third, but erased that immediately when she birdied from 20 feet on the next hole.
"I felt like my tee shots were pretty solid, iron shots pretty solid, my putts were pretty solid," Wie said. "The two chip shots I had were pretty good. Overall, I feel like my game was pretty solid."
Defending champion Annika Sorenstam shot 72 and is 1-under at the halfway mark. Only 13 players are under par going into the weekend. Morgan Pressel was 5-over on the back nine, including a triple bogey on the par-3 14th, and shot 76 to fall 12 back.
Michelle Wie's list of practice venues just keeps growing.
First she received an "honorary membership" to Waialae Country Club for the year from WCC president John Burns. Now, an ad in the local paper here features a picture of Wie looking out at Bighorn Golf Club, where the Samsung World Championship is played and just a few miles away from Rancho Mirage. The ad says "Where the Greats of the Game Play is Where You Belong. Bighorn Welcomes its Newest Member, Michelle Wie!"
The Wie family now owns a home at the club which, according to the ad, is "privileged without pretense," as well as "home to the West's most spectacular private spa" and "most stunning collection of residential architecture on earth." There are also two 18-hole courses.
Lorena Ochoa, Michelle Wie and Karrie Webb go out in the final group this morning at 9:01 Hawai'i Time. Wie, who is fluent in English and Korean and speaks some Japanese, is not confident she can communicate with Ochoa, who is from Mexico, in her native language.
"My Spanish is not good at all," Wie said. "All I know are Taco Bell phrases, which I've basically forgotten by now because I gave up fast food for Lent."
Those that shot 6-over 150 or better made the cut, with 70 of the 98 players advancing to the weekend. Those missing the cut included major champions Amy Alcott, Angela Stanford, Hilary Lunke, Patty Sheehan and Laura Davies, who had an 84 yesterday. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, the 2003 Kraft champion, had the day's best round, a 5-under 67. The average score yesterday was 74.552 — nearly a full shot higher than Thursday
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.