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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

Confident Wie shrugs off critics

By Steve Adamek
The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

GLADSTONE, N.J. Michelle Wie waved politely, spoke demurely, acted like the perfect lady a month ago when she left New Jersey after falling five strokes shy of winning a spot in the men's U.S. Open sweet 16 brandishing a putter that couldn't get the ball in the hole often enough.

Now she's back to prepare for the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship, which begins today at Hamilton Farm Golf Club. On Tuesday, Wie revealed a bit of how much she's hardened since then.

Six days after her 36-hole men's Open qualifying marathon at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, she stood over a 50-foot putt for eagle to make a playoff in the LPGA Championship. She didn't make it and eventually fell two strokes shy of a playoff.

On Sunday, she held a share of the lead with six holes to play at the U.S. Women's Open. Again she fell two shots out of a playoff that Annika Sorenstam won over Pat Hurst.

Wie came so close again, but didn't win, circumstances that have turned her into a teenage version of Greg Norman, so compelling to watch, if not quite so tragic in defeat.

"I can make a list of excuses for you right now (about not winning) if I wanted to, but I'm not going to do that," Wie said Tuesday after playing her first practice round at Hamilton Farm, where she tees off today at 5:20 a.m., Hawai'i time, against Candy Hanneman, the 2001 NCAA individual champion for Duke.

"I know there are people out there critiquing me, saying I haven't won, or blah, blah, blah, but I don't really care about that kind of stuff. I'm not here to make it easy for myself. I'm not here to cut slack for myself. I'm not here to put myself higher than I am.

"I'm just here to play as well as I can and if I'm going to win, I'm going to win," she said.

Or make a cut, as Wie will try to do at two PGA Tour events this summer, including the John Deere Classic later this month.

Or make the men's Open, which she failed to do before thousands during a 36-hole marathon last month at Canoe Brook.

Those quests have earned her more criticism than kudos, suggestions that she needs to win something to deserve all the attention she's received.

The HSBC's match-play format could help, for two of her biggest successes have come in such hole-by-hole competition, even though it often proves troublesome for top-drawer professionals, having produced a Marisa Baena-Meena Lee final last year at Hamilton Farm.

Wie won the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at 13, then reached the quarterfinals of last year's men's Public Links before losing, both at match play.

Now ranked No. 2 in the world (which has produced some criticism from the "she hasn't won anything" faction), she's also seeded in the bracket opposite the No. 1-ranked Sorenstam, which means they can't meet until Sunday's 36-hole final.

Sorenstam opens against Thailand's Virada Nirapathpongporn.

Wie briefly caught her for a share of the Open lead during Sunday's final round when the teenager birdied the 12th hole. She promptly dumped a 5-wood tee shot into a bunker on No. 13 and eventually bogeyed, never to lead again.

At last month's LPGA Championship, she missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 16 and a 10-footer for birdie on No. 17 before running her 50-footer for eagle and a tie on 18 well past and eventually three-putting.

Before Canoe Brook, she also finished a shot out of a playoff at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship so in this year's three majors, she's finished a combined five shots out of the lead.

Clearly, she isn't the same player who slept on the third-round lead at the 2005 women's Open, then blew up with a final-round 82. Clearly, she can now sniff the winner's circle, if she hasn't experienced it yet on the game's biggest stages.

"I feel like I'm getting real close," Wie said. "I've been working on a lot of stuff like my wedges, my short game, my putting, consistency on my drivers.

"I feel like my game is getting there. It's improving, it's becoming more and more solid, and hopefully I can break through."