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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 1, 2006

Wie one shot off U.S. Women's Open lead

 •  Rough day for young trio at U.S. Open
 •  Course set up for Wie breakthrough

By Hank Gola
New York Daily News

Michelle Wie reacts to her birdie on No. 18. "Making birdie on the last hole made my lunch taste a lot better," the 16-year-old said.

ELISE AMENDOLA | Associated Press

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Michelle Wie checks her scorecard on 18 during the first round. Wie shot a 1-under 70 and is one shot behind the leaders.

ELISE AMENDOLA | Associated Press

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TODAY'S TEE TIMES: HAWAI'I TIMES

Michelle Wie, 7:25 a.m.

Stephanie Kono, 2:50 a.m.

Ayaka Kaneko, 3:01 a.m.

Kimberly Kim, 8:42 a.m.

ON TV: Today 9 a.m. to noon, KHNL-News 8. Tomorrow, 5 a.m. to conclusion of third round, ESPN2; 9 a.m. to noon, KHNL-News 8.

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NEWPORT, R.I. The fog finally lifted over the Newport Country Club yesterday. What it revealed could make for a fascinating weekend at the U.S. Women's Open.

Annika Sorenstam is back. Se Ri Pak is really back. And Michelle Wie is only one back.

Sorenstam, the slumping Swede, grabbed a share of the lead at a major for the first time this year when she birdied No. 16 and parred in to match the 2-under par 69s registered by the resurgent Pak, amateur Jane Park and veteran Pat Hurst in the morning. The steady Wie finished with a birdie to join a group of five golfers one shot off the lead.

The over-saturated course played long, and stiff winds made it play harder, so much so that the USGA moved up the tees to take 67 yards off the scorecard. For the most part, it was the cream of women's golf that grinded its way to the top of the leaderboard, and it started with Sorenstam, who hasn't won since Week 1.

Sorenstam had what might have been the best ball-striking rounds of her disappointing season. With a 36-hole finish set for tomorrow, her experience will be huge if she keeps hitting fairways.

"I'm just happy with the way I played," she said. "I drove it well, hit some fairways. I haven't seen fairways in awhile. I feel like I've come a long ways the last few days and today I really showed that."

As for Wie, this should be her best shot for her first win. With the fairways so wet, anyone who can carry the ball has a huge advantage. Once again, her ball-striking was something to behold yesterday and her putting was so-so.

Even though these greens aren't that difficult to putt, the 16-year-old phenom used the flat stick over 30 times (including from the fringe), then offered the same old song.

"I felt like I could have made a lot of putts out there," she said. "I had a lot of solid putts, I hit them right where I wanted to. Unfortunately they didn't all go in."

The biggest one that did drop capped off her round, a 12-foot birdie that got her into red numbers.

"Making birdie on the last hole made my lunch taste a lot better," she said.

"The putt really boosted my confidence for (today)."

No one is more confident than Pak.

Once the No. 1 player in the world, the 1998 U.S. Open champion had seen her game and her will deteriorate, with the low point being a neck injury that sidelined her for parts of last season. But her playoff victory at the LPGA Championship last month revived her and there was no letup yesterday.

"I feel great to be back. At the same time my game is back, too," she said. "I feel so much confidence in my game right now. Every year I start giving more and more, and not really giving myself time to take a break. The last couple of years I realized that I am a human being, I'm not a machine. Now it just feels perfect, I know I can be there at the top again."

Pak, starting on the 10th tee, birdied two of her final four holes, buoyed by a long putt from the fringe on No. 6.

Notes: Hurst, with one career major in her bag, was far less of a surprise leader than Park, the 19-year-old UCLA sophomore who won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 2004. She hadn't played in a pro event since she missed the cut at last year's Open at Cherry Hills. "I wasn't really nervous at all today," said Park, who birdied No. 10, then made eight straight pars. "It was just going out there and having fun, because that's all you can do out here. I've got nothing to lose."