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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 15, 2006

Wie facing a miss cut after opening 5-over 77

Michelle Wie photo gallery

By Alan Robinson
Associated Press

Caddie Andrew Lano confers with Michelle Wie on the 12th tee during the first round of the 84 Lumber Classic.

MARK DUNCAN | Associated Press

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FARMINGTON, Pa. The course was too long, the competition too good. Michelle Wie has an exceptional golf game for a 16-year-old, except when she's playing against the men.

Heavy overnight rain softened up the third-longest course on the PGA Tour and created ideal scoring conditions yesterday at the 84 Lumber Classic, but not for Wie. Her sixth attempt to became the first woman in 61 years to make a cut in a tour event looks to be unsuccessful, much like the other five.

Wie, playing in her third and last U.S. men's tournament this year, shot a 5-over 77 on a day when there were 25 scores in the 60s on the expansive Mystic Rock course. She was in a five-way tie for 125th, with the top 70 and ties after today's second round advancing to weekend play.

"I don't feel any extra pressure because I'm a girl out there," said Wie, who turns 17 next month. "I had six or seven putts that looked like they were going to go in the hole and didn't. And that was really frustrating."

Nicholas Thompson, a 2005 qualifying school graduate who is 181st on the money list, took advantage of an early starting time on a course soaked by 1 1/2 inches of overnight rain for an 8-under 64. It was the tournament's lowest round since Vijay Singh's opening-round 64 in 2004. Thompson hopes to follow Singh and 2005 champion Jason Gore by turning at least a share of the first-round lead into a title.

"Had it not rained and the scores had been this low, I would have been surprised," Thompson said. "Due to the rain, it softened up the greens" and allowed golfers to aggressively go for greens they knew would hold their approach shots.

Thompson, a former U.S. Walker Cup team member, had a two-shot lead over a crowded group of six at 66 that included Rory Sabbatini and Reno-Tahoe champion Will MacKenzie. Six more were at 67.

Sabbatini, a speedy player, was paired with Ben Crane for the first time since becoming so upset with Crane's overly deliberate play in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic that he intentionally played out of order to show his unhappiness. Crane had a 73.

Wie also played slowly, and not all that well. She got off to an encouraging start with three consecutive pars after starting at No. 10, potentially calming her nerves on a course the Punahou School senior knows well. But her round began getting away when she missed a short par putt on the par-4 13th, starting a stretch of three consecutive bogeys.

Playing in the last group of the day, she never had a chance after that despite being repeatedly encouraged by a large gallery that chanted her name on No. 17.

Her best chance for the birdie she never got came on the par-4 No. 4, but she missed a 6-footer.

"I felt like from tee to green I played very well. My short game and putting let me down a couple of times every time," Wie said. "It doesn't feel like I played 5-over because I hit the ball really good."

The Pete Dye-designed Mystic Rock course at the Nemacolin Woodlands resort stretches over 7,550 mountainous yards and probably wasn't the best choice for Wie to challenge the men again. She was befriended by tournament founder Joe Hardy several years ago and has visited the mountaintop resort numerous times, and was hoping that familiarity might help.

Several in the field predicted this would not be a good tournament for Wie, and suggested her game might be better served by pursuing as many chances as possible to win against other women. She is not eligible for full-time LPGA Tour membership until she is 18.

Wie's last six rounds against the men, not including an Asian Tour stop this year in which she made the cut against a field of unknowns, include two 79s, a 78 and two 77s. She finished last a week ago in the European Masters in Switzerland with a 79-78-155.

"But I feel a lot more confident and comfortable with my game," she said. "I'm hitting my irons 10 yards longer than I did last week. I think I could have easily shot under par today, but my putts didn't go in and I feel they will go in tomorrow."

Among the nine in the field with scores higher than Wie was John Daly, the unofficial tournament host who had a 78.

David Toms and Scott Verplank had the best rounds of the five U.S. Ryder Cup team members tuning up for next week's event in Ireland, shooting 70s.

Toms had a much more enjoyable opening round than a year ago, when he was rushed off the course on a stretcher and was admitted to a Pittsburgh hospital in critical condition with a rapid heartbeat.