After stepping away from golf, Wie playing with renewed confidence

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2014, 4:24 pm

Michelle Wie is playing with a renewed bounce in her step so far in this new season. The former phenom is playing with an intensity and desire we haven’t seen for awhile.

We saw it Saturday at the Honda LPGA Thailand, where Wie’s 3-under-par 69 moved her into a tie for second place, four shots behind Anna Nordqvist.

The effort puts Wie in the final pairing Sunday with a chance to win her third LPGA title, her first in more than three years. She’ll tee it up with Nordqvist and Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, who is also tied for second.

“It’s fun being in contention,” Wie said after Saturday’s round.

Those words were music to the ears of her swing coach, David Leadbetter, because he has watched the joy leave her game the last couple seasons.

He saw her grinding too hard to find the form that led so many to believe she would dominate the women’s game. He could see the disappointment wearing her down when the hard work wasn’t rewarded.

“I think she fell out of love with the game to an extent,” Leadbetter said. “If you’re not in love with the game, the work it requires can become drudgery.”

So at the end of last year, Leadbetter advised Wie to take five weeks off. She did. She stepped up her fitness routine, but she didn’t play or practice for five weeks.

“I think it’s the first time since she was 5 years old that she has gone that long without touching a golf club,” Leadbetter said. “We had a little boot camp before the start of this year, and you could see she was really refreshed, really ready to go.”

Wie, 24, didn’t just take a break from the game. She also took a break from her parents.

B.J. and Bo Wie did not accompany her to the LPGA season opener in the Bahamas last month, Michelle’s first start of the 2014 season. It might well have been the first time her parents didn’t escort her to a tournament.

“Everyone knows her parents have been very involved,” Leadbetter said. “Sometimes, she rebels. She’s a young woman now, and she has demanded more freedom.”

Wie tied for 13th at the Pure Silk Bahamas. Sunday’s test in Thailand will be different. She hasn’t won since the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2010. Final round nerves will really test where her game’s at this early in the season. She could get a giant boost of confidence playing well in the final round, or learn just how much more work is left to do.

“I know I want it,” Wie said of winning. “It’s not a question to me how much I want it. I really want that win, but I’m not going to put added pressure on myself."

Ask Wie her goals for 2014, and she won’t say winning. She’ll say it’s being consistent. She believes that will lead to winning.

“I think mentally she’s in a great place now,” Leadbetter said.

Wie is hitting the ball better, especially her driver, which has betrayed her the last few seasons. Wie led the LPGA in driving distance in 2010, averaging 274 yards per drive. She was 33rd in driving distance last year, averaging 253 yards per drive.

A lot of the falloff is due to the fact that she hit so many more 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee last year. That’s a function of her driver betraying her too often, and losing confidence in the club that helped make her dominant as a young teen.

In Thailand, Wie’s bombing her driver everywhere. Yes, it’s a course with plenty of room, but it’s more than that. Leadbetter sees her confidence returning with the driver.

“When she has confidence hitting her driver, that’s a good sign,” Leadbetter said.

When her driver was not cooperating last year, she played more conservatively, gearing down with those 3-woods and 5-woods.

“With confidence in her driver, she will be able to play more aggressively when she needs to do so,” Leadbetter said. “She can play to her strengths.”

Of course, Wie’s putting will likely have the final word on whether she wins again. Her move to the unusual “table-top stance,” has helped. She jumped from 119th in putts per greens in regulation in 2012 to 25th last year. Her stance is evolving. She isn’t bent at 90 degrees at the waist anymore. She jokes that she’s got a little more “drawbridge” action now, becoming slightly more erect.

“She’s comfortable with it,” Leadbetter said.

Come Sunday, we will see how comfortable Wie is being back in contention.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."