Wie An Unfinished Portrait

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04 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- Michelle Wie is unlike any other.
 
She is a grizzled veteran at age 15, having competed on professional tours at least once every year since 2002, when she was in the seventh grade, had braces and was only hitting her drives 280 yards.
 
Wie looked relaxed Tuesday morning, casually greeting Kirk Triplett on the range at Waialae Country Club, then heading to the 10th tee for a practice round with Ernie Els as if it was just another day, although certainly not the typical day of a high school sophomore.
 
But the expectations are higher than ever, and criticism is starting to mount.
 
No one disputes that her potential is unlimited, but the focus is shifting to a trophy case that is collecting dust.
 
There is an art form to winning, and learning how to win different ways, Tiger Woods said last week. Learning how to win when youre dominating, learning how to win when you dont have anything at all. Theres so many different ways you can win a golf tournament. I think Ive gone through all of that, so Ive learned.
 
And it served me very well once I got out here.
 
It was the same philosophy Woods spoke about last year, but this time he added a caveat.
 
What shes doing might hurt her, he said. But in the end, she might be so talented she might just win everything. And it might be a new way of doing it.
 
Thats something to keep in mind this week when Wie plays in the Sony Open.
 
The portrait is far from finished.
 
A year ago, Wie birdied two of the last three holes in the second round for a 68, the lowest score by a female of any age competing on a mens tour. She finished at even-par 140, which was better than 47 other men at the Sony Open but still one shot short of making the cut.
 
Her goal is to play on the weekend at Waialae. If everything goes perfectly'and thats about what had to happen for her to shoot 68 last year'the ultimate would be to finish in the top 20. Told that would mean finishing ahead of 124 players, she smiled and said, That would be really cool.
 
Maybe it was just a coincidence that Wie played Tuesday with Els and Justin Rose, who turned pro after tying for fourth in the 1998 British Open, then missed his first 21 cuts as a professional.
 
It would not be a failure if Wie missed the cut, or even finished dead last at the Sony Open.
 
Wie remains a work in progress, and progress is hard to measure when her road is unlike any other.
 
Normal reporters look at consequences, said her father, B.J. Wie. We look at the process.
 
The only trophy Wie held last year was the Curtis Cup, shared by seven other amateur women. She failed to defend her title at the U.S. Womens Amateur Public Links, and lost in the second round at the Womens Amateur.
 
Wie has heard the whispers about winning, and questions about her strategy to play against the very best competition instead of trying to beat kids her own age.
 
Some are so ridiculous I actually laughed, she said. Im actually grateful, because those words made me practice harder. If I didnt read them, I might just sit back and not practice.
 
Measure her by the professional events, and the outlook changes.
 
Wie tied for fourth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, up from a tie for ninth the previous year in the LPGAs first major championship. She tied for 13th at the U.S. Womens Open, up for a tie for 39th. She made the cut in all seven LPGA events, only finishing out of the top 20th once.
 
For her, winning is not the true test of progress, said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. If you look at Michelle, shes maturing as a person, shes physically stronger, she has more variety of shots. She categorically is a better player. But that doesnt always compute that she will do just as well in any one tournament.
 
A lot is expected of her, and shes really handling it well, he said. Shes very confident of her own ability. Shes got a plan in her mind of what shes trying to do. This route has not been taken. Shes sort of a pioneer.
 
She took the Sony Open route last year, and it was no surprise the tournament offered her another exemption. Ticket sales spiked by some 20 percent, and Wie remains a big attraction in a field that includes Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen.
 
Still, her father was nervous when the invitation became official.
 
I couldnt sleep well because I was worried about her performance, B.J. Wie said. Her 2004 performance was very excellent. But its hard to make the second movie as successful as the first one. Michelle told me, Dad, dont worry. Im not interested in making the cut, Im interested in the top 20. Im the only choker in my family. My wife and Michelle are very aggressive.
 
Its not a normal way to think, he said. But she proves to me many times that shes not normal.
 
Wie is not taking the normal route'not the one taken by Woods, or even Venus and Serena Williams, whose father kept them out of the top tennis circuits until they were ready.
 
Perhaps, as Woods suggested, she is blazing a new path.
 
It will be mentioned many times this week, but is worth repeating.
 
She is only 15.
 
And thats years away from anyone being able to judge whether she is doing the right thing.
 
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