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Wie's sluggish season, 81 at CME leaves little hope

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A few years ago, if you had said a young American would break the long drought without a homegrown LPGA Rolex Player of the Year, I would have said, 'Of course Michelle Wie will.'

And then she will win it again, and then she will win it again.

That’s how big the expectations were. That’s how big her game was.

Placing aside all the hype and Nike swoosh money, Michelle Wie could flat out hit a golf ball. It was silly, really, how good she was.

“Posture, the ball position, her grip, everything is just perfect,” Ernie Els said of a 14-year-old Wie back at the Sony Open in 2004. “From there, she makes a nice move and brings the club down in front of her. All of the talent in the world. It’s just a matter of time before she hits her stride and then the golfing world will really have to watch out then.”

Last week on Golf Channel’s 'Morning Drive,' Annika Sorenstam was asked if she once believed Wie was the biggest threat to her dominance.

“Yes, I thought so,” Sorenstam said. “It was just a matter of time.”

On Thursday, in the first round of the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders, Wie shot a nine-over-par 81, a shocking score for a player who remains one of golf’s biggest names and one of its biggest conundrums.

Wie had two birdies, nine pars, four bogeys, two doubles and one triple. After one round, she is 15 shots out of the lead.

Even the best golfers in the world have rough patches, but Wie’s 2012 season has been one long slog. She has one top 10 in 22 starts. She’s missed 10 cuts.

“It is her putter and her mental ability on the golf course,” Judy Rankin said Thursday on the Golf Channel broadcast. “My hope – it’s many people’s hope – is this season and the hard times she’s had as a very young player aren’t scars that won’t heal.”

You can’t talk about the 23-year-old Wie without revisiting her teenage years, when the game looked so easy and so natural. She missed the cut against the men at the Sony Open by one shot at age 14. Two years later, she missed qualifying for the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot by five shots. She was an icon before she could drive a car. There were two names in golf: Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie.

“Michelle Wie didn’t make the United States Open, but someday she will,” wrote Dave Anderson in the New York Times. “But next year at 17 or the year after at 18 or the year after that at 19, golf’s Wonder Teen will make enough birdie putts in sectional qualifying and, whether the male chauvinists like it or not, she will have earned the right to be the first woman in golf’s most prestigious tournament.”

I was with Anderson at that day’s sectional qualifying at Canoe Brook in Summit, N.J., and I was completely on board.

Wie was going to dominate the women’s game.

It hasn’t happened, of course, and we’re all left to guess whether it’s burnout or overcoaching or something different altogether.

Wie attended Stanford University and says she loved her time there. She went to football games, started a blog, and fit in on a campus of high achievers.

Even through her struggles on the course, she appears happy and well-rounded. She pokes fun at herself on Twitter, posts dessert recipes on the Internet and is always game to lend a fashion tip.

The golf world has found new prodigies to embrace, players like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, and surely more are coming.

Wie once stood alone. Everyone saw the potential for greatness.

The question is, can she still go out and reclaim it?

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