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Wie leads NW Ark.; turning potential into reality

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With the LPGA season reaching its midway point, Michelle Wie is already playing with house money.

Fresh off her triumph at the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie could call it quits tomorrow and still look back on 2014 as a career year: two wins, including her first major title, nine top-10 finishes and only two starts all year yielding less than a top-15 result.

Based on her play this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, though, she shows no signs of slowing down.

Wie shot a second consecutive 66 Saturday at Pinnacle Country Club, and at 10 under she will take a two-shot advantage into the final day of the 54-hole event, with some second-round play still to complete. She is the hottest player in the LPGA right now, with five top-three finishes in her last eight starts, eyeing her second win in as many weeks.



“It’s kind of my goal for the entire year to be consistent,” Wie said after carding six birdies against one bogey in the second round. “That’s my main goal, to be consistent for the entire year and just try and get better every week. I feel like I’ve been achieving it so far, and I just want to keep improving.”

Consistency has been a strong suit for Wie, who picked up right where she left off at Pinehurst despite a post-victory media circuit that took her to New York for two days in advance of this week’s event. The whirlwind travel may be taking a toll on the 24-year-old, but it’s not hampering her on-course performance.

“I definitely am tired,” said Wie, who admitted she was running on fumes. “I just want to kind of get through tomorrow.”

In a battle of fatigue versus confidence, the latter often wins, as has been the case this week for Wie. She has received incremental boosts of confidence throughout the year: first with her runner-up finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, then with her win at the Lotte LPGA Championship in her native Hawaii, then finally with last week’s breakthrough at Pinehurst.

It’s a far cry from the player who missed the cut in Arkansas a year ago and failed to complete her second round at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open the following week, or the one who was seen as a surprise captain’s pick when added to the U.S. Solheim Cup squad last August.

Those searching for the source of Wie’s turnaround need only look at two key metrics. In 2012, she ranked 119th on the LPGA in putts per GIR, while finishing 69th in GIR percentage. Last year, those figures saw modest improvement – 25th in putts per GIR and 32nd in greens hit.

This season? Wie enters this week ranked third in both categories, and likely will only improve with her performance in the Ozarks.

While the stat sheet tells much of the story, Wie’s watershed season has also been rooted in intangibles: increased poise, maturity, and most of all, confidence.

Nowhere is that self-belief more evident than on the greens, where Wie has transformed her tabletop putting stroke from the butt of jokes into an effective weapon.

“Definitely feeling a lot more confident,” she said. “Just feeling more and more comfortable with the speed and everything. It’s always a work in progress.”

Days before her U.S. Women’s Open win, Wie spoke of beginning the “second part” of her career, a strange notion for anyone in their mid-20s but a more realistic statement given how long she has been on the national stage. She’s well on her way to authoring a new chapter with her play this summer.

For years, the consensus about Wie was that she possessed the potential to blow away fields, dominate the women’s game and transform the LPGA.

Potential.

In the span of nine days, she has captured a major while facing more scrutiny than any other player in the field, then grabbed the pole position again where many would have succumbed to a post-victory letdown.

Seemingly with each passing round, Wie is turning years of pent-up potential into reality. Whether she adds to her trophy collection Sunday, it’s a trend that will likely only continue as her dream season progresses.