Rosales returns to defend SBS title
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
A year ago on the North Shore, a brilliant opening round launched Jennifer Rosales to her second LPGA victory. Her first, in 2004, made her the first from the Philippines to win on the LPGA tour.
Rosales captured the inaugural SBS Open at Turtle Bay, with Cristie Kerr and Hawai'i's Michelle Wie, then a 15-year-old amateur, sharing second. This year's SBS, and the 2006 LPGA season, begin tomorrow at the Palmer Course.
Kerr and "J-Ro" are back, along with eight others from last year's Top 10. Wie and Annika Sorenstam, who has been No. 1 with a bullet most of her career, will be missing in action.
It will be the first time since Wie was 12 and became the youngest qualifier in history at the 2002 Takefuji Classic, the LPGA will hold a tournament here and she will not play.
Wie, limited by the time off she can take from Punahou School and the number of exemptions she can accept on the LPGA tour (six), has opted to play only the Fields Open in Hawai'i, next week at Ko Olina Golf Club.
"It would have been better if Michelle had been able to play both the SBS Open and the Fields Open," her father, BJ Wie, said. "Michelle still feels fortunate to play at least one of the two (Hawai'i) LPGA tournaments."
Wie plans to practice this weekend at Ko Olina so won't see any of the SBS. She considers Ko Olina, Waialae Country Club and Olomana Golf Links her home courses, but isn't anticipating anything special next week despite familiar territory.
"The only difference (from other LPGA events)," BJ Wie said, "is that she does not have to travel far."
According to Golfweek magazine, the PGA Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open and John Deere Classic have offered Wie exemptions to play this summer. Wie missed the cut at the John Deere by two shots last year. The only other PGA Tour event she has played is the Sony Open in Hawai'i, where she has missed the cut the past three years.
BJ Wie would not comment on his daughter's schedule.
South Koreans Bo Bae Song and Na Yeon Choi received sponsor exemptions for the SBS Open. Song, from South Korea, turns 20 next Wednesday. She won the 2003 Korean Women's Open at age 17, and defended her title the following year as a rookie on the Korean LPGA tour. She was the 2004 and 2005 Player of the Year on the KLPGA, and won the Samsung Ladies Masters last year. She and teammate Jeong Jang finished second in last year's Women's World Cup. Choi, 18, turned pro in 2004 after winning the KLPGA's ADT-CAPS Invitational by four shots over Se Ri Pak. She finished in the Top 10 of the KLPGA money leaders in 2005. She was also given an SBS sponsor's exemption last year, along with Michelle Wie, and missed the cut.
The 2006 LPGA schedule has 34 events and record prize money of nearly $50 million. The tour is also celebrating the creation of golf's first playoff system and first $1 million paycheck, which will go to the winner of the season-ending ADT Championship. There are a record 37 rookies playing for that prize money this year. Okinawa's Ai Miyazato headlines that group after blowing the competition away at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She won by 12 shots — yet another record. Paula Creamer, the 2005 Rookie of the Year, won $1,531,780 last season. She broke tour records for most money won by a rookie, and youngest (18 years, 11 months, 18 days) and fastest (4 months, 27 days) to reach the $1 million mark in career earnings. Which led LPGA founder Louise Suggs to say this when she presented the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award: "I won 58 tournaments and played on tour for more than 30 years. I made $190,000. Paula, I think you owe me some money." By way of comparison, the PGA Tour has 48 official events this year, worth $255 million. The smallest purse is $3 million — $2 million more than the SBS Open offers this week.
More than 100 international members are teeing it up on the LPGA tour this year. Just 15 years ago, there were 34 and none finished Top 10 on the money list. Last year, players from outside the United States represented seven of the Top 10.
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