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

Pressel may give Wie needed push

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

KAPOLEI Published legend has it that when Michelle Wie won out over Morgan Pressel for low amateur honors at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wie wondered out loud whether she should do a plunge into the pond a la tournament winner Annika Sorenstam.

"Well, I'll be happy to give you a push," Pressel told Wie, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Today, Wie could use that push. Not into one of the ponds on the Ko Olina Golf Club course, perhaps, but a shove up the leaderboard at the Fields Open in Hawai'i. The kind that playing with her designated teen rival Pressel could well provide.

They're matched together in today's 10:30 a.m. group, along with 48-year-old Sherri Turner, for the first time in their months' old professional careers. Two players who are opposites in so many ways, curiously, need each other's competitive spark to make a run at the title in a tournament where they share ninth place, six strokes back of another rookie, Seon Hwa Lee.

How fired up they really get about the head-to-head competition remains to be seen, but there's no doubting everybody else is stoked. Tournament officials expect the matchup to help double the gallery to 10,000 to 12,000 today and media are relishing the possibilities of a teen throwdown that boxing promoter Don King, if not the LPGA, might bill as the "Collision in Kapolei."

After dropping to a 2-under-par 70 yesterday, following a first-round 67, Wie needs to catch fire today to have a chance to win her first LPGA tournament in 26 tries. And, who better to ignite that flame than Pressel, who earlier this month questioned why Wie shouldn't have to qualify for the U.S. Open like everybody else.

For either to win today is a long shot, but especially in Wie's case, definitely not out of possibility on a course she calls home.

Can she do it?

"Absolutely," said Greg Nichols, general manager of Ko Olina Golf Club. "I think she's capable of going to 13 or 14 under."

An element to watch for, besides the hometown gallery, is a favorable wind. The kind that could kick up and unravel the leaders. Of the eight players ahead of Wie on the leaderboard, only three Lorena Ochoa (three), Wendy Ward (four) and Nicole Perrot (one) have won LPGA events.

None of them will have the swelling of support Wie can summon today. None of them will be backed by the legion wearing "Imua Michelle" pins.

Well, maybe not everybody has their heart set on a Wie win. A resident of a home along the third hole placed a sign on the course that said: "Wie support you all the way but it's Natalie (Gulbis) we love."

Not the way to hit Wie up for an autograph, which she said the man did, but perhaps a way to inspire Wie, who birdied three of the next six holes.

When you're trying to come back from six strokes, you have to take inspiration where you can find it. Especially if it is playing right beside you today.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.