Appleby 80s for Wie

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HONOLULU -- Stuart Appleby acts as if last week never happened.

He opened the PGA Tour season with a dominant victory in the Mercedes Championships, when he was never more than one stroke out of the lead and led by as many six.

The Sony Open is just another tournament.

'Sunday is history, isn't it?' he said. 'Another week, another tournament, there will be another winner at the end of this week, and all of a sudden, 2004 is finished. The bandwagon moves on real quick.'
 
Even so, he concedes the Sony Open is slightly more than just another week.

It's not every week that a 14-year-old girl plays on the PGA Tour.

Appleby will try to duplicate Ernie Els' feat of winning both Hawaii events. Vijay Singh is likely to hover around the top of the leaderboard, a position he has occupied since August. The first full-field tournament of the year features nine players who have never competed on the PGA Tour.

One of those is Michelle Wie.

The ninth-grader at nearby Punahou School was given a sponsor's exemption, and it seems to have been well-spent. There is a buzz at Waialae Country Club about the idea of someone who's so good at such a young age, and curiosity about what kind of score she can post against the best players in the world.

Els played with her during a practice round Tuesday and stopped short of proclaiming her to be the female version of Tiger Woods.

Appleby only watched her hit a few shots, but he drew a different conclusion.

'What's realistic? I think if the weather stays half-decent, if she can shoot two scores in the 80s, that would be good,' Appleby said.

That would be the worst any woman has fared against the men on the PGA Tour.
 
Annika Sorenstam, the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour when she played at the Bank of America Colonial in May, had a birdie putt on every hole in the first round and shot 71, then added a 74 to miss the cut by five shots.

Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley had rounds of 75-78 at the Greater Hartford Open and missed the cut by 13.

Appleby, conceding he has never seen the 14-year-old prodigy play a full hole, based his projection on her age and previous experience.

Wie shot 78-76 at the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour. She was one stroke better (74-79) at the Bay Mills Open on the Canadian tour.

Wie is playing at the highest level Thursday in the Sony Open, on a course where heavy rain over the holidays has created thick rough lining the fairways and around the greens. She has shot a 65 at Waialae, her best score, although not on greens that are running this fast.

The pressure might be greater than anything she faces.

If the weather is anything like it was Wednesday, Wie and everyone else could be in for a real test.

Gusts approached 30 mph as a storm moved in. The 189-yard 17th hole played so tough that when Davis Love III reached the tee, he was told that only player had hit the green, Ben Curtis, with a 2-iron.

Players usually hit no more than a 5-iron, sometimes as little as an 8-iron.

Love hit a 3-iron that stopped just inches from going in for an ace.

Wie played only nine holes in the pro-am once the storm cleared. Every shot counts Thursday when she tees it up at 8:59 a.m. (1:59 p.m. ET) with Craig Bowden and Kevin Hayahsi, a PGA professional from the Aloha Section.

'It's a men's PGA event, but I think I'm just going to go in with the same attitude that I go into the LPGA tournaments and amateur tournaments,' Wie said. 'It's just that I'm playing against different people. I'm not getting really nervous. I just hope that I play good.'

No one had any idea what to expect when Sorenstam played at Colonial, and no one can be certain what to expect from Wie. She is tall (6 feet) and strong, and can hit the ball over 300 yards in the right conditions.

But then, so can everyone else on the PGA Tour.

Els, who last week was skeptical about her chances, had a more positive outlook after his practice round.

'To be honest with you, I don't think I've ever seen a lady golfer swing the club as good as Michelle does,' Els said. 'The basics are pretty much there -- posture, ball position, her grip, everything is just perfect, all the talent in the world. It's just a matter of time before she hits her stride.

'And then,' he said, 'the golfing world will really have to watch out.'

The golfing world is watching this week, not because this is another female playing against the men, but because it's a 14-year-old with enormous potential getting her first look at the best players.

Final exams are this week at Punahou School, although Wie took all of them in advance.

Her next big test is Thursday.
 
Related links:
  • Sony Open Tee Times
  • Full Coverage - Sony Open in Hawaii
     
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