Wie-Mania reborn after first LPGA win

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2009, 7:20 am
Michelle Wie did substantially more than break through and win her first LPGA title Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She resurrected all the hope she brought to women’s golf as the young Hawaiian phenom whose mighty swings made even PGA Tour pros marvel.

Brace for Wie-Mania, the second wave, because you know it’s coming.

With the LPGA nearing the end of one of its most tumultuous seasons, it couldn’t come at a better time.
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie reacts to her first LPGA victory. (Getty Images)

Wherever he was when Wie closed out Sunday’s victory, Michael Whan must have let loose a terrific howl. The newly named LPGA commissioner couldn’t have asked for a better assist in getting his tenure started. Wie’s popularity veers outside golf’s niche sport boundaries. No woman in the game possesses more potential to drive new interest into the women’s game. The LPGA needs all the help it can get with so many daunting challenges ahead in these hard economic times.

“Michelle’s had a pretty darn good rookie year, but I’ve really felt like next year was going to be the big year,” said David Leadbetter, Wie’s long-time swing coach.

That ought to be music to the ears of LPGA fans who understand what she can do for the tour if she can build on Sunday’s victory.

It wasn’t just that Wie won that mattered. It’s the way she won. With a birdie at the final hole at Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, Wie showed terrific closing skills and steely nerve to beat the biggest names in women’s golf in a tight back-nine battle.

With a sure swipe of her sand wedge, Wie tossed a tough greenside bunker shot within a foot at the final hole to secure a two-shot victory over Paula Creamer.

“As soon as I put it close, I almost cried,” Wie said. “There was so much emotion.”

Wie, 20, acknowledged what you couldn’t help seeing when she climbed out of that last bunker. She almost floated up onto the green. The weight of so many onerous expectations seemed to lift right there at the 72nd hole.

“It’s definitely off my back,” Wie said. “I think that hopefully life will be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do.  I still have a lot to improve.  It just feels so great right now.”

Wie ended an American drought in a big way. She was the first American to win on tour since Cristie Kerr won the Michelob Ultra Open in May, ending an 0-for-17 run.

Wie has long endured criticism that she took shortcuts to the elite level and never learned how to win, but she showed something holding off Kerr, one of the toughest competitors in women’s golf. They played side by side in Sunday’s final pairing. Wie also fended off challenges from Creamer and a charge from Morgan Pressel. She even beat Jiyai Shin, who is known on tour as “The Final Round Queen.”

Notably, Wie’s first victory came in an event hosted by Ochoa, the No. 1 ranked player in women’s golf. That Wie may be putting the pieces together to realize all her promise and challenge Ochoa at the game’s highest level will fuel Wie-Mania II. All Wie’s work with Leadbetter, her confident new putting stroke inspired in work with Dave Stockton, are coming together to revive hope that she’ll yet be a Tigress-like force in women’s golf.

We glimpsed Wie’s rebuilt confidence at the Solheim Cup in September, where she looked like an unstoppable dynamo. In the aftermath of the American victory, LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster predicted Wie would win before the year was out and Wie didn’t disappoint in the year’s second-to-last event.

Wie said her Solheim Cup performance was a factor in Sunday’s victory.

“It put me in such high pressure situations,” Wie said. “I learned so much about how to handle high-pressure situations, and I gained so much confidence from that.”

Back when Wie first emerged in golf’s consciousness, everything seemed to come so easily to her, almost too easily. At 12, she qualified for the LPGA’s Takefuji Classic. At 13, she tied for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. At 14, she played in her first PGA Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption, shooting 68 in the second round of the Sony Open. By 16, she had already finished fifth or better in six LPGA majors.

Through it all, Wie endured heavy criticism that she was given too much, that she hadn’t earned her chances and that her inability to close out a victory was a byproduct of that.

Wie endured more than the sting of criticism. She suffered through a pair of wrist injuries that almost ruined her swing. She struggled to break 80 in LPGA events trying to come back. She endured other difficulties, like being disqualified from the Samsung Invitational in 2005 for signing an incorrect scorecard in her first event as a professional. She drew the ire of Annika Sorenstam at the Ginn Tribute after withdrawing in the middle of a round that looked like it might end with Wie failing to break 88. Wie was accused of withdrawing to avoid a rule that bans non-members for the season if they shoot 88 or worse.

All of this, plus her lucrative million-dollar endorsement deals, made her a lightning rod in women’s golf.

In the end, Sunday’s victory seemed like a reward for hard lessons learned, for hardships endured, and that makes her breakthrough more satisfying for everyone involved.

Notably, Pressel and Brittany Lincicome waited around to congratulate Wie and bathe her in a fizzy, cocktail shower on the 72nd hole. Wie said earning her tour card this year, forging friendships and feeling like she fit in on tour helped her win.

“I’ve been through a lot, a lot of ups and downs, places I never want to go again, but it all makes this so much more delicious,” Wie said. “It feels good knowing I pushed and fought through all of that. I’m proud of the perseverance. I got a lot of help from a lot of people to really fight through that and overcome that and become a better and happier person in general. I’m just really proud of the dedication.”

Note: The final round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational will air again Monday at 7 p.m.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.