Butterflies and Solid Play for Wie

By Associated PressOctober 13, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 Samsung World ChampionshipPALM DESERT, Calif. -- Michelle Wie listened for her name to be announced, waved to a gallery that was perched among the desert fauna at Bighorn, then gracefully bent over to stick a tee in the ground.
It was no different from any of the 93 previous rounds she played against the pros.
Only when she steadied her 6-foot frame over the ball did it start to sink in. The 16-year-old from Hawaii, still waiting to get her driver's license, was about to embark on her professional career.
``I wasn't that nervous when I put the ball on the tee,'' she said. ``I wasn't that nervous when I took my practice swings. But once I got over my tee shot, my heart was thumping. It was different.''
Her 3-wood soared against the brown-and-green backdrop of desert golf into the fairway, and she was off. And when the first round of the Samsung World Championship ended with a bogey from the bunker for a 2-under 70 -- six shots behind defending champion Annika Sorenstam -- it felt like any other round on the LPGA Tour she has been playing since she was 12.
Not much different, either, was the name atop the leaderboard.
Watching the Michelle Wie Show unfold in the group ahead, Sorenstam went about her business with alarming precision on her way to an 8-under 64, a score that could have been even lower except for missing birdie putts inside 5 feet on the final two holes.
It was a sobering reminder that while Wie has the richest endorsement contracts and all the attention, Sorenstam has the most trophies.
The 35-year-old Swede didn't see it that way.
``Honestly, I didn't feel like I'm here to prove anything.,'' Sorenstam said. ``I know where I am on the money list. I'm here to reach my own goals, play my own golf. I see this as an opportunity to win this tournament for the fifth time.''
Sorenstam had a one-shot lead over Gloria Park and Cristie Kerr, who played with Wie and welcomed her to the professional ranks with four birdies on her first five holes.
Kerr has been playing practice rounds with Wie since the Hawaii sensation was 13, and she knew what to expect -- not just the prodigious tee shots, but the media hype around it. Even before she stepped onto the first tee, Kerr asked that a TV crew be moved outside the ropes. And though she was five shots better than Wie, she was impressed.
``I came out here straight out of high school,'' Kerr said. ``My first shot, I think I shanked it, or I at least hit it poorly. She striped it down the middle. It was fun to watch.''
Wie wound up in a tie for 12th among the 20-player field, dropping shots on two of the last five holes with a tee shot that caromed off the trees on the 14th, and hitting twice into bunkers on the closing hole.
It was steady, not spectacular. Even so, Wie showed she belongs.
``We have the best 20 players here, and she's one of them,'' Lorie Kane said after a 66.
Bighorn doesn't draw large galleries to the hilly course tucked in the foothills of the Santa Rosa mountains, although most of the fans took spots in the scrub brush and cacti to watch Wie launch her professional career.
Nike chairman Phil Knight was in the crowd -- he wasn't in Milwaukee when Tiger Woods made his pro debut -- along with three others from the Swoosh staff. Wie's entourage included mom and dad, swing coach David Leadbetter and his wife, three executives from the William Morris Agency, agent Ross Berlin and his wife.
The big difference comes Sunday, when Wie collects her first paycheck in a tournament with no cut.
``I haven't thought about playing for money or more pressure,'' Wie said. ``Once I started playing, it wasn't any different.''
Wie played 24 times on the LPGA Tour and competed five times against the men during an amateur career in which she spent more time playing against the pros. She joined them last week in Honolulu, signing lucrative deals with Nike and Sony, instantly making more endorsement money than even Sorenstam.
She showed poise, patience and the usual amount of frustration over her putting.
After a wedge into 18 inches for a tap-in birdie on her second hole, she faced her first test. Her drive on the par-5 third hole went right into a small piece of desert, the ball nestled in a tiny bush with a rock the size of a bowling ball possibly getting in the way of her next shot.
Rather than take a risk, Wie took a one-shot penalty to move it to the sand and punched out. She hit her fourth shot into 3 feet and escaped with par.
``I could have played it left-handed,'' Wie said. ``But it was the third hole on the first day, so I thought I'd just take an unplayable. I made par anyway.''
She made her share of birdies, too, twice on the par 5s by getting around the green in two, and an 18-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole, the longest putt she made all day.
Wie was three shots off the lead at that point, tied for fifth, until her two mistakes cost her.
``The most memorable thing was I hit the first fairway,'' she said. ``That was pretty cool. Obviously, some things didn't go as well as I planned.''
Sorenstam had few complaints, although the atmosphere was different. Sorenstam is no stranger to low numbers, but it's rarely this quiet when she's making so many birdies. All the attention was in the group ahead, and that was OK with the 35-year-old Swede.
``It's a big step for her to turn pro,'' Sorenstam said. ``I think she can handle it.''
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.