Wie Faces Uphill Battle

By Associated PressJanuary 13, 2005, 5:00 pm
04 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- First came a stinger tee shot with her driver -- a low, penetrating flight into 25 mph gusts that went 275 yards.
 
For her next trick, Michelle Wie hit a knockdown 6-iron that stopped 6 feet away for a birdie.

It was extraordinary stuff for anyone on the PGA Tour, let alone a 15-year-old girl.

'I didn't feel like I was playing with a 15-year-old girl,' said Matt Davidson, who shot 77 in his PGA Tour debut while playing before a large gallery hanging on every shot Wie hit.

'She has all the tools to be out here,' he said.

But by the end of the first round Thursday, Wie was happy just to save par. Stacked up against the men in the Sony Open, her 5-over 75 was less than ordinary.

Wie battled blustery conditions that led to the second-highest scoring at Waialae Country Club since it changed to a par 70 six years ago. She had a tougher time deciding how to gauge her performance.

She tied nine other men (Fred Funk, Paul Casey) and beat 15 others in the 144-player field. But she also was nine shots behind the leaders -- Stewart Cink, Brett Quigley, Tom Byrum and Hank Kuehne -- who each shot 66.

And she faced a tough task Friday trying to become the first female to make the cut on the PGA Tour since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Tucson Open.

'It could have gone both ways,' Wie said. 'If my putting just went in, I think I would have shot an awesome round. But it could have gone a lot worse. I could have easily made five or six more bogeys. But I hung in there.'

Her only consolation?

'At least I'm not in last place,' she said.

Wie last year opened with a 72 and followed that with a 68 -- the lowest score by a female competing on a men's tour -- to miss the cut by one shot.

Her 75 on Thursday put her in a tie for 120th (she was tied for 105th last year), and she was four shots below the projected cut line. Wie stayed on the practice range for nearly three hours after the round, knowing it might take her best to stick around on the weekend.
 
'If I end up at like 1 over par, maybe I'll make it,' she said.

Wie had said she would need some luck on her side, and she didn't have much. Not only did several putts burn the edge of the cup, her morning start turned out to be the bad end of the draw. The wind subsided slightly in the afternoon, and the scoring stabilized.

Still, the average score of 71.813 was more than 11/2 strokes higher than last year.
 
She wasn't the only one who struggled in the wind.

Only 29 players broke par, the fewest in seven years at Waialae.

Among them was Vijay Singh, the No. 1 player in the world, who had only three sub-par holes -- one of them an eagle -- and dropped back to 69 with a sloppy bogey on the par-5 18th.

'It was hard hitting every shot -- the drive, approach shot was difficult,' Singh said. 'It's tough for the boys over here, you know? Going to be tough for a girl here, too.'

Two-time defending champion Ernie Els had to birdie his last hole for a 71, the first time he has shot over par in 17 rounds at Waialae. U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen hit his first two tee shots out-of-bounds and made a 9, but recovered for a 72.

Byrum was even par through 10 holes and finished with two birdies. He was among the 47 players who finished behind Wie a year ago and asked what she shot Thursday.

'She's going to be a great player,' he said. 'I might want to beat her now while I can.'

Paul Azinger, Chad Campbell and Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman were among those at 67 on a day in which only 29 players in the field of 144 broke par.

Azinger played with Daniel Chopra, who was 5 over with two holes to play and birdied them both. The threesome joked about how Chopra rallied hard to avoid losing to a 15-year-old, although Azinger put it in perspective.

'There's no shame in losing to that girl,' he said. 'She's incredible. She hits it like a man.'

Wie's only birdie came on her third hole, the par-4 12th, which she played to perfection. She was even par for the round until a few errant drives cost her. A tee shot on the 16th found the left rough, and Wie had to lay up short of the green, eventually missing a 20-foot par putt.

Her only big gaffe came on the 17th, a 187-yard hole framed by the Pacific Ocean on the left and deep bunkers on the right. Her 4-iron into the stiff wind -- the same club Els used earlier -- went right, and she three-putted from 20 feet for a double bogey.

Wie missed a 5-footer for birdie on No. 18, dropped another shot on No. 1, three-putted from long range on the second hole, and it looked as if her round was getting away from her.

She turned it around by saving par from a bunker on No. 3, the first of four quality par saves the rest of the day.

'If I didn't make a par there, who knows what the score would be?' she said.

She had to settle for a 75, leaving her a lot of work to do Friday.
 
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