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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 25, 2006

S. Korea's Lee up by 2; Wie six shots back

 •  Pressel may give Wie needed push
 •  At age 20, Song is an LPGA vet
 •  LPGA drops media demands

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie will be paired with fellow teen phenom Morgan Pressel today in the final round of the Fields Open in Hawai'i.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Michelle Wie reacts after missing a par putt on the 18th hole. She shot a 70 yesterday and is at 137.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KAPOLEI While a bunch of golfers made a move to turn the first Fields Open in Hawai'i into their first win, Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie scrambled to stay close in yesterday's second round.

Seon Hwa Lee takes a two-shot advantage over Natalie Gulbis into this morning's final round. Both scorched Ko Olina Golf Club for 6-under-par 66s yesterday.

Julieta Granada, a 19-year-old rookie from Paraguay, was even hotter. She sank five straight birdies in the midst of shooting a 65 one off the tournament record Ochoa set Thursday (the course record is 63, by Hawai'i pro Kevin Carll). Granada, the 2004 American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, once had six straight birdies in the South America Junior Championship. She won that by 17 strokes.

That won't happen today, but Granada's chance of winning her fifth LPGA start is better than most. She is playing in the final group and is three behind Lee, a 20-year-old rookie who is 13-under in her third LPGA start. Lee might be the South Korean equivalent of straight-talking 17-year-old American rookie Morgan Pressel, despite her self-described "poker face" on the course.

"If I'm putting well tomorrow I'll win," she said.

Lee and Granada started their first season as LPGA members by sharing 13th in last week's SBS Open at Turtle Bay.

Gulbis was fifth thanks to eluding bogey the final 43 holes. Ochoa took Turtle Bay apart the final two rounds shooting another tournament record in the process to claw into a three-way tie for first, but lost out on the first hole of sudden death.

"I gave myself a chance to win the tournament," said Ochoa, fourth on last year's money list and the 2003 Rookie of the Year. "I came from behind and I had a really good run on Friday and Saturday. I was just happy that I had an opportunity and I did my best ... The more chances I have, the better."

Same goes for Wie, chasing her first paycheck as a professional at age 16, and her first win since the 2003 U.S. Women's Public Links. She is making her 26th LPGA start, but is limited to eight events a year because she is not a tour member and, more to the point, has a full-time job as a Punahou junior.

She opened with a 5-under 67 Thursday on the course she plays more than any other. Yesterday was more of a challenge, with three bogeys almost negating five birdies. She is six shots out of first and tees off at 10:30 a.m. today with Pressel.

"I still feel like I have a chance tomorrow, if I get things going," Wie said. "Hopefully I'll be able to do that."

How low does she need to go? "Well, you know, it will just be a low number," Wie said, before acknowledging the leaders are not thinking about her.

The leaders have enough on their minds. Ochoa is the only player in the final two groups who has won on tour and she is still trying to figure out the difference between her stunning 64 Thursday and yesterday's pedestrian 71.

Lee, 20, took the lead from Gulbis when she birdied three of her final five holes all from inside four feet and nearly holed her pitch shot on the 18th to save par. Lee was the youngest to ever turn pro in South Korea, at 14. She has three international victories and got to this tour by finishing first on the Futures Tour money list last year.

She does not lack for confidence. She quickly squelched any talk of Joo Mi Kim's win last week giving her inspiration.

"I'm always confident," Lee said. "I'm ready. I'm always ready."

Gulbis, 23, has been ready since she played her first round as an LPGA member at the 2002 LPGA Takefuji Classic. Her playing partner that day was 12-year-old Michelle Wie.

"Hopefully," Gulbis grinned, "we're both a little more mature now."

Gulbis is $1.8 million richer, but without a victory despite 12 top-10 finishes last year when she set a good news/bad news record by becoming the first LPGA player to rake in $1 million without winning. She captured the California Women's Amateur Championship at age 14, has her own Web site and calendar, but no LPGA victory in 107 starts.

"I think that (not winning) hangs over your head every week, from when I was 10 or 11 and trying to win tournaments," Gulbis said. "Every single week I try and go out and win tournaments. You just have to keep putting yourself in position."

NOTES

Julieta Granada and Helen Alfredsson shared low-round honors yesterday with 65s. The scoring average was 71.4, down from Thursday's average of 71.636. More than half the field (71 of 132) finished under par yesterday, including former Rainbow Wahine Cindy Rarick, who shot 67 to make the cut by a shot.

The cut came at 1-under 143, with 73 players advancing to the final round. That is the lowest LPGA cut since the State Farm Classic, nearly six months ago.

After today, the LPGA takes a week off before heading to Mexico City for the MasterCard Classic Honoring Alejo Peralta. Media credential forms for that event will be printed in English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.