Wie 1 back; contention 'feels like home to me'


PHOENIX – Michelle Wie can’t wait to test her nerves and resolve in yet another weekend chance to win.

If there are doubts lurking after all her struggles the last two seasons, and after failing to close out a victory in her last start at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, she is eager to face them down.

Wie said she is feeling good about being in the hunt halfway through the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Being in contention is definitely a spot where I feel comfortable,” Wie said. “Feels like home to me. It's nice being in this position again.”

After a 5-under-par 67 at Wildfire Golf Club on Friday, Wie is in position to make a run at her fifth LPGA title, her first since she won the U.S. Women’s Open three seasons ago. At 12 under, Wie is just one shot behind Ariya Jutanugarn (67) and Stacy Lewis (67).

“I'm really proud of the way I've played the last two days,” Wie said. “To give myself an opportunity, that's all I can ask for at this point. I'm really excited.”

Wie is part of a star-studded leaderboard with Hall of Famer Inbee Park (66) joining two-time major championship winner In Gee Chun (69), rising South Korean star Sung Hyun Park (66) and four-time LPGA winner Jessica Korda (66) among players just two shots behind Jutanugarn and Lewis.

Wie got off to another strong start Friday, making birdies at five of her first 10 holes. She rolled in a 40-footer at the ninth hole to move within a shot of the lead and then rolled in a 6-footer at the 11th to grab a share of the lead.

Wie, however, couldn’t get up and down at the 13th and bogeyed, falling a shot back.

“I’m just going to go out there and have fun and play my hardest and see where it takes me,” Wie said.

After missing the cut at the Pure Silk Bahamas in the season opener, Wie looked as if her woes might continue deep into 2017. Injuries robbed her of a chance to build on her U.S. Women’s Open in ’14 and followed her into ’15. She continued to struggle with lost form and confidence in ’16 and slipped to 105th on the LPGA money last year, losing full status. She’s competing in a former champions category on the LPGA priority list this year.

But something came together with Wie going to the Women’s Australian Open last month to make her second start of 2017. Her swing is better this year. She has found a dependable stock fade, a shot she’s hitting with renewed confidence. She’s also finding a putting stroke, having ditched her unorthodox “table-top” stance for a more upright posture and a stroke that her swing coach David Leadbetter calls a “claw setup” and “claw stroke” without the claw grip. She’s got a conventional grip working now.

Wie needed just 11 putts through the first nine holes on Friday. She took just 26 putts overall for the second consecutive day and ranks T-12 in putting through two rounds.

If Wie pulls this off and wins the Founders Cup, it’s a particularly strong message. The Founders Cup is turning into yet another putting contest with so many players enjoying so many birdie chances. Wie’s putting has long been considered the central weakness in her game, but she said she worked hard to change that since the end of last season.

“I’ve been spending so much time on the greens,” Wie said. “I’ve spent hours just putting and putting and putting. Practice makes perfect, I guess, because it feels comfortable.”

That’s giving her a fighting chance.