Updated 9:15 p.m.
PHOENIX – Some aches are actually good for you.
Michelle Wie knows this.
The ache she felt blowing the final-round lead at the HSBC Women’s Champions in her last start was almost as energizing as it was dispiriting.
After all the misery endured trying to work back from injury and slumps the last two-and-a-half seasons, Wie left Singapore encouraged about finally giving herself a chance to win again.
Yeah, there was pain slapping around that four-putt on the front nine of that final round, squandering a two-shot lead, but there was a thrill in remembering what it was like trying to close out a victory.
Wie rode the confidence gained in Singapore to a fast start Thursday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, the LPGA’s American opener.
Wie shot a 7-under-par 65 at Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club to take a share of the lead with Vicky Hurst and Jane Park through the morning wave. She'd finish the day one off the 8-under pace set by Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, In Gee Chun and Sandra Changkija.
“I was disappointed on Sunday,” Wie said. “I was sad. It definitely stung. You always want to win. At the same time, I played great on Sunday. Just a couple putts didn’t go in.”
Halfway through Thursday, Wie looked on track to having led three of the last five rounds played on the LPGA tour.
“I felt really good after Singapore,” Wie said. “I was so proud of myself for putting myself there. I was so confident all week, and it felt great to be confident again, to be in contention.”
After missing the cut at the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas, Wie found something.
She found a little baby cut that’s been dependable, and she found yet another unorthodox putting style.
Wie hit 12 of 14 fairways Thursday and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. She was bombing her driver deep down the middle of fairways. She averaged 291 yards per drive in the first round, longer than everyone but Lexi Thompson in the morning wave.
“When you are hitting it 290 and hitting a lot of fairways, you make the game a hell of a lot easier,” said David Leadbetter, Wie’s long-time swing coach.
Mostly, Wie was making putts again on Thursday, always an encouraging sign with her past struggles on the greens. She rolled in a 15-foot eagle putt at the fifth. She made seven birdies on the day against two bogeys, taking just 26 putts.
“The big thing is she is really excited about playing again,” Leadbetter said. “You can feel the confidence coming back.”
Wie’s putting remains weird science, but she likes the stroke she and Leadbetter are currently honing.
Don’t ask her to explain it, though.
“I have no idea,” she said. “At this point, I can't describe anything I do while I putt.”
After a terrible start on the greens in the season opener at the Bahamas, Wie finally ditched her unorthodox “table-top” stance. She went to a more upright stance, with a claw grip, but she ditched that after her second start at the Women’s Australian Open. She went to Singapore with the same upright stance, but with a conventional grip, with her elbows spread wide.
“It’s like a claw setup without the claw grip,” Leadbetter said. “She uses her right elbow like a fulcrum. It’s like a violinist’s elbow, how it’s bent and how it stays bent. So, it’s like she’s making the claw stroke without the claw grip.”
Wie still uses the claw grip in practice sessions, but she doesn’t feel completely comfortable with it in competition,
“I practice with it,” Wie said. “I love the way my stroke goes.”
Wie has put herself in early contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014. She is playing this year out of category 3 on the LPGA priority list, which is reserved for members who are major champions. She slipped to 105th on the money list last year, which cost her full LPGA status.
Wie experienced a lot of aches, physical and emotional the last two seasons. Singapore brought a promising kind of ache.
“Every experience you get, you learn from it, and I learned a lot from it,” Wie said. “Hopefully, I use the experience here in the upcoming events.”