Big Easy Shares Billing with Big Wiesy

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04 Sony OpenHONOLULU - Ernie Els has played before the largest galleries this week at the Sony Open, in part because he is trying to become the first player in its 40-year history to win three straight times. And also because the Big Easy has been hanging around the Big Wiesy.
 
In the first full-field event, with the No. 1 player (Vijay Singh) at Waialae Country Club for the first time, 15-year-old Michelle Wie remains the star attraction as she pursues history of her own. She will try to become the first woman to make the cut on the PGA Tour since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Tucson Open.
 
Impossible?
 
A year ago, Wie shot 68 in the second round ' the lowest score by a female competing against men ' and finished at even-par 140 to miss the cut by one shot.
 
'To me, the two stories are: Can Ernie win three in a row? And Michelle Wie, how is she going to play?' David Toms said Wednesday. 'I think it's good for this golf tournament.'
 
It might be a little tougher for Wie this time around.
 
She now has a performance to measure herself against. And while expectations are high, so is the rough. Add in some heavy rain in recent weeks, and Waialae Country Club is playing every bit of its 7,060 yards.
 
Wie headed to the practice range late Wednesday afternoon, searching for a spot between Zach Johnson and Jesper Parnevik as she tried to control her driver.
 
She was to tee off Thursday at 8:59 a.m. HST, playing with 31-year-old Brett Wetterich and 23-year-old Matt Davidson, who graduated from Furman last year and will be playing his first PGA Tour event.
 
Els wasn't willing to offer any predictions, only that he is no less astonished by her game.
 
'It's amazing what she is doing ' a 15-year-old girl playing in a PGA Tour event,' Els said. 'She's doing a hell of a job, and she believes she can play with us, which is great. I think from last year to this year, I could see her developing as a person now.'
 
Els also played a practice round last year, fitting since Wie was dubbed the 'Big Wiesy' as a 12-year-old when Tom Lehman compared her swing favorably with Els.
 
They played twice this time ' a practice round Tuesday, the pro-am round Wednesday ' and it wasn't hard to figure out where they were on the traditional course lined by skinny palms.
 
Just look for the crowds.
 
'Home crowds can go two ways,' Jim Furyk said. 'But at the tender age of 15, I think she's probably very well-suited to pressure and having the home crowd. And she's well, well, well beyond her years, well beyond a 30-year-old probably in a lot of ways.'
 
The first full-field event of the year features four players from the Champions Tour ' Monday qualifier Dick Mast, Peter Jacobsen, Craig Stadler (playing this week with son Kevin, a PGA Tour rookie) and Tom Kite, who is using a one-time exemption from the money list to play one final year on the PGA Tour.
 
And while the PGA Tour season is only one week old, it allows Els a chance at redemption.
 
Just four days ago, he stood on the 18th tee at Kapalua needing a birdie on the par 5 to force a playoff. Instead, his tee shot sailed to the right, hit a cart path and went out of bounds.
 
He seems to have recovered.
 
'I made a mistake there and it was difficult,' he said. 'But I'm fine now. It's not like it's never happened before. But yeah, I look at the bad side. I had a chance to win and I blew that. The good side is it's the first tournament of the year. It's not a bad start to the year.'
 
Waialae is a good place for him to feel good vibes.
 
The Buick Classic, the Heineken Classic and the World Match Play Championship in England (where he has a home on the 16th fairway) are the only other tournaments Els has won at least two times in a row.
 
It wasn't easy at the Sony Open.
 
He outlasted Aaron Baddeley on the second playoff hole two years ago when Els holed a 55-foot birdie putt and Baddeley three-putted for bogey from 20 feet. A year ago, Els lost a two-shot lead on the back nine, then beat Harrison Frazar on the third extra hole with a 30-foot birdie putt.
 
'I've been fortunate in those playoffs,' Els said. 'It could have gone either way. I could be sitting here and moaning about how I lost them, but I won them. That's a good thing.'
 
Even so, he has never finished worse than fifth in his four previous years at the Sony Open.
 
'It helps when you have a good feel around the place,' Els said. 'Definitely, I have it here. But you've still got to go out there and play the course. You can't go back on your record.'
 
That's good advice for anyone this week, especially Wie.
 
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