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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wie's big rally falls short

Golf photo gallery
 •  A Wie win may not be too far off
 •  Storylines make for compelling tourney
 •  Fans rally to support Wie's charge

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie had reason to smile after rallying back to finish one shot from a playoff at the Fields Open.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HonoluluAdvertiser.com

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LPGA Tour Fields Open

At Ko Olina Golf Club

Kapolei, Hawaii

Purse: $1.1 million

Yardage: 6,519; Par 72

Final Round

x-Meena Lee, $165,000 202 -14

Seon-Hwa Lee, $100,942 202 -14

Michelle Wie, $73,227 203 -13

x-won on third hole of playoff

INSIDE

Michelle Wie rallied, so did her gallery

Storylines provide compelling Fields Open | C5

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Meena Lee hits her ball onto the 18th green on the first playoff hole. In regulation, she birdied the hole to end Michelle Wie's chances at a win.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Meena Lee hugs fellow South Korean Seon-Hwa Lee after Meena Lee won the Fields Open in Hawai'i on the third playoff hole.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KAPOLEI Two Lees beat one Wie at the inaugural Fields Open in Hawai'i.

A lone bogey prevented 16-year-old Michelle Wie from a shot at stunning the golf world yet again yesterday. The Punahou School prodigy blitzed Ko Olina Golf Club for a final-round 66 stunning in itself and finished a shot out of a playoff eventually won by Meena Lee, whose 7-under-par 65 was the day's best round.

Wie seized a share of the lead after 12 holes despite coming into the final round six shots behind Seon-Hwa Lee, who fell to Meena Lee's four-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole. It did not take much imagination to see Wie adding the title of youngest winner in LPGA history to her bulging record book while picking up her first paycheck as a professional.

Instead, Wie had to settle for the $72,875 third-place money. Her three-putt bogey on the eminently birdie-able 13th hole kept her from the playoff. Wie easily birdied the other three par-5 holes yesterday, barely missing eagle on each.

An 18-footer for birdie that refused to drop on the final hole "I've made that putt a million times," Wie said, "but it was not meant to be" left her 13 under and the leader in the clubhouse, but she was unable to control her destiny.

"I just played really well today and standing here there's nothing I can do anymore," Wie told TV after she signed her card. "That's the worst part."

Meena Lee confirmed her fears by sinking a six-foot birdie putt to finish at 14 under soon after. The frenzy that Wie had fed all day with seven birdies suddenly went flat. Her gallery, which approached the massive following she gets at the Sony Open in Hawai'i, disappeared.

Seon-Hwa Lee reached 14 under when she birdied Nos. 13 and 14 the back-nine par-5s and parred in to force sudden death. But Wie's impact on this tournament was so pervasive the playoff almost appeared an afterthought.

The Lees parred the first extra hole (No. 18) Meena Lee getting up and down from in front of the green before a petite and polite audience around the green. When they teed off on the second playoff hole (No. 16) there was absolutely no one watching along the ropes until they got to the green.

Both parred that hole as well, with Meena Lee dropping a 10-footer. She won on No. 17 with her sixth birdie. Early on, she also eagled the second hole with a 9-wood in her hand from 160 yards out.

"I never thought about winning today because there was too much gap between the leader at the beginning," said an interpreter for Lee, who started six back. "But after the eagle on the second hole I had the luck of playing well. I had a great day."

This was her second LPGA victory. Last year Lee, 24, was seventh on the money list and second to Paula Creamer in the rookie of the year race. In 2002, she was the leading money winner and rookie of the year in Korea.

One of her three victories that year came in a playoff against Seon-Hwa Lee, then only 16 and already a pro for two years. Seon-Hwa Lee would go on to win three times in Korea and finish first on the Futures Tour money list last year to get her LPGA playing privileges.

Wie doesn't have those yet, but when she appears, particularly in Hawai'i, everyone else seems to fade into the background even if she is 0 for 26 now in LPGA events. Her surge yesterday hooked a huge gallery that ranged from men in suits to the shirtless and shoeless, young and old, every color of the rainbow.

She was also followed by a media mob that included staff from "60 Minutes," back for a sequel, and an author who has been working on a Wie book since November. It was, as Wie would say over and over, "awesome."

"The positive energy I received from the crowd today was awesome," Wie said. "I felt like I basically knew half the people in the gallery. It was awesome. Just the people following me, rooting for me, especially walking down the 18th hole. It felt awesome."

The back nine was breathtaking, with contenders coming from everywhere. When Wie drained her final birdie, from 17 feet on No. 17, she was tied for first with the Lees and Lorena Ochoa, who bogeyed the final two holes to come up just short a second straight week. Nicole Castrale, Julieta Granada and Natalie Gulbis also had chances to break through for their first win.

That it would come down to a playoff a second straight week was no surprise. That Wie was not in that playoff made the ending almost anticlimactic.

"I played awesome today," said Wie, who has five top-three finishes in her last nine LPGA starts. "I felt I played very solid, but unfortunately not the way I wanted it to turn out. I'm happy with the way I played. I played solid and I know what to work on for the next tournament so I feel ready."

Her next tournament will be her fourth Kraft Nabisco Championship, in late March. It is the LPGA's first major of the year. Wie has never finished out of the top 15 there. Will this be the one?

"There is a lot of what-if, what-if, what would have been," said Wie, admittedly "a little flabbergasted" by all that went on yesterday. "It would be nice, it would have been awesome if I had won, but unfortunately it didn't happen this week. Hopefully it will happen in the next one."

NOTES

Rookies rock: Five rookies finished in the top 20, with Seon-Hwa Lee and Julieta Granada in the top five. Karin Sjodin took eighth, Morgan Pressel 11th and Brittany Lang 19th. Granada, a 5-foot-2 19-year-old, is a student of David Leadbetter, who also teaches Michelle Wie.

Putting along: Natalie Gulbis finished fifth last week in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay and fourth yesterday. Both weeks she was three shots out of a playoff. Last week, Gulbis had 94 putts 15 more than winner Joo Mi Kim. This week Gulbis had two more putts than winner Meena Lee (81-79) and nine more than Seon-Hwa Lee. Wie had 86 putts.

Local angle: Former Rainbow Wahine Cindy Rarick, who represents Waikoloa, played with Turtle Bay's Dorothy Delasin yesterday. Rarick closed with a 71 to tie for 41st her best finish since 2002 and Delasin was 67th.

In the money: Nicole Castrale's best career LPGA finish before this year was 29th. She shared 26th at Turtle Bay and fourth yesterday, collecting more than $81,000. In her previous 20 LPGA starts, the 2001 USC graduate had earned $34,000.

Good cause: Ko Olina Charities, a non-profit organization created by Ko Olina Resort & Marina to "assist community development and provide meaningful educational and training opportunities for residents of Leeward O'ahu," made a $20,000 donation to the Girl Scout Council of Hawai'i. Hidetoshi Yamamoto, president/CEO of the Fields Corporation and host of the tournament, also presented a personal $20,000 check to the Friends of Hawai'i Charities as a "personal token of gratitude" for its role in generating funds for not-for-profit organizations that focus on Hawai'i's women, children and the needy. Additional proceeds from the Fields Open will be distributed in the spring.

The Kim threesome: It was only a matter of time on a tour that features seven players with "Kim" as a surname: Mi Hyun, Joo Mi and Young Kim no relation played in the same threesome the first two days.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.