South Korea's Jang leads Fields Open
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
KAPOLEI — While the leaders took turns tearing up Ko Olina Golf Club yesterday, Michelle Wie rode her golf roller coaster into today's final round of the Fields Open in Hawai'i.
Wie hinted that her 18th year could be a whole lot better than her 17th, and just as adventuresome, when she shot a second-round 73 to make her first cut since July. At 2-under-par 142, she is 10 shots back of leader Jeong Jang, who followed Thursday's tournament-record 64 with a 68 to move to 12-under.
Song-Hee Kim, who is a year older than Wie, is a shot off the lead after matching Jang's 64. Lorena Ochoa established that as the tournament record two years ago. Finland's Minea Blomqvist flirted with it late in the day, birdieing seven of her first 12, but settled for 65. She has a share of fifth with Kelli Kuehne, Angela Stanford and SBS Open at Turtle Bay champion Annika Sorenstam, who birdied four of her last six.
Australian Lindsey Wright is alone in fourth and Paula Creamer, No. 5 in the Rolex World Rankings, is third after a 68 that came despite a relapse of flu symptoms that started last week.
Even she admits the illness, aggravated by muggy conditions, might help her focus: "My parents always say, 'Yeah, you're sick. Good,' " Creamer joked.
The cut came at even-par 144 with 74 advancing to today's final round, including Sacred Hearts senior Ayaka Kaneko. Wie, a Stanford freshman and Punahou graduate, was never truly in danger of missing it, but was in some danger yesterday, literally and figuratively.
While her game is clearly closer to the world-class level she was playing at age 16, it still holds a few of foibles that turned 2007 into a golf nightmare. She is still not quite sure what will happen with her driver and every once in awhile she hits an approach shot from hell.
That happened on the fifth hole, when she transformed the birdie-friendly par-5 into a wild ride by skulling her third shot over the green and bunker and into her gallery. Her fourth flopped softly on the green and stayed on the upper tier. But, with a Wie flair that was totally absent last year, she sent her speedy 35-foot par putt into the heart of the hole to stay even for the day.
"It felt like old times when I made that putt," Wie said. "It was like, yeah, fist pump and everything. Kind of felt really good actually."
Wie hit brilliant approach shots to within 10 feet on the next two holes and, unlike Thursday when she made practically every putt she looked at, converted just one for birdie. She gave that back with bogey on the next hole then played the back nine in 1-over, which can be traced to the 11th, not that anyone on the Mainland saw it.
After promoting Wie all week leading up to the Fields, and from the moment it started coverage Thursday and she was already in with her 69, The Golf Channel cut off at its appointed time yesterday, leaving Wie in a precarious position.
She had just yanked her drive. The ball came to a stop "a centimeter" from the curb. Traffic had been stopped on the road as Wie, who first hurt her wrist in 2006 when she hit off a cart path, took practice swings with her feet on the street.
"I was kind of scared for my wrist a little bit there," Wie said. "But I just kind of went up there and I think it was seriously one of the best shots that I hit today. I had a 7-iron and I was on the road, so the ball was a lot higher than my feet. I just felt like I was really confident with that shot. I just really trusted myself. I hit it clean. It was not an easy shot. Half of my club was lying on the curb and half of it was lying on the rough. Just a really interesting shot. I never had it before and I hope I never do again."
Wie, recovering from injuries to both wrists, ultimately chipped to five feet and missed her par, but was happy with her round and her rejuvenated long game, and surprised her score wasn't lower than Thursday.
"I feel like I accomplished my goal of staying in the present," Wie said. "If a couple shots didn't go the way I wanted to, it's fine. It's still really early on. I hit a lot more good shots than I did bad. I think I'm definitely on the positive road back."
Jang was as breezy and upbeat as a day earlier. The 27-year-old sank seven birdies yesterday, two from 30 feet. She was pleased with the putting she focused on in the offseason, but felt let down by her chipping.
"The chipping was really hard around the green," Jang said. "I'm supposed to make par from there, but I didn't make the easy pars."
She only had eight pars yesterday. Jang is 12th in the Rolex World Rankings, has won twice — including the 2005 Women's British Open — and is 25th in career earnings. She passed the $4 million mark here last year and got to $5 million later in a season where she felt she played her best, despite going winless.
She took the lead into the final round of that 2005 Women's British Open, and recalls not being able to sleep the night before. Jang is also worried about how nervous she will be this morning after going so long without a win.
"Of course I'll be nervous. It makes me goosebump," Jang said, pointing to her arms. "Because I really want it and I've been waiting a long, long time."
What scares Jang most is how many birdies are begging to be had in the idyllic conditions at Ko Olina.
"The conditions are awesome, pretty much," said Wright, who played at Pepperdine with Kaua'i's Rachel Kyono. "It's not like last year when it was difficult. It's playing shorter so you're hitting a lot of wedge shots. A lot of birdie chances."
Kim made eight in her bogey-free round, with four of her birdie putts coming from outside 18 feet. She had just three birdies all last week in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, where she missed the cut.
Kim was the Futures Tour Player of the Year in 2006, at age 17, but hasn't finished better than 22nd since getting joining the LPGA last year. Until yesterday, her low LPGA round was 68.
Jeong Jang proudly goes by "JJ," but joked about a few of the other pint-size nicknames people have pinned on her 5-foot frame. When reminded that Mi Hyun Kim is called "Peanut," Jang was prepared with this response: "Some Korea media guy always calls me the "Ultra Super Peanut" whatever, because I'm smaller than her. But I really don't like it," Jang said. "She is an inch taller than I am, but I'm definitely bigger this way (width) so everybody thinks I'm bigger."
Joo Mi Kim, the 2006 SBS Open at Turtle Bay champion, withdrew on the fourth hole Thursday. Kim did not play SBS last week. Danielle Ammacapane also withdrew.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.