Wie moves near Open lead with stunning 66

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KOHLER, Wis. – From a couple hundred yards away, Suzann Pettersen could detect the difference in Michelle Wie’s game.

Playing behind Wie, Pettersen could see the most obvious sign that something special was finally coming back to Wie Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Pettersen could see a flurry of fist pumps.

“I know Michelle has been struggling this year, but I must say, playing behind her, I don't think I've ever seen her make as many putts as she did today,” Pettersen said. “She was fist pumping every putt she looked at.”

In what has already been a long, hard season, Wie found more than a lost putting stroke and lost swing. She found the joy that had been missing from her game.

“I’m pretty stoked to be back in contention and honestly not have to worry about the cut line,” Wie cracked. “It feels pretty good.”

The frustration of so many missed cuts this season melted away Friday with Wie posting a 6-under-par 66, a record score for the two U.S. Women’s Opens held at Blackwolf Run. It was three shots better than Wie’s previous best score in eight other U.S. Women’s Opens.

Wie, a two-time LPGA winner, has six finishes of fourth or better in U.S. Women’s Opens but no top-10 finshes in the event in six years.

Wie pulled this golden round from a season that has been too much of a mess for her liking. She arrived at Blackwolf Run having missed seven of her last eight cuts worldwide.

“It’s really a confidence boost for the weekend,” Wie said. “I’m just going to build on it.”

Wie’s putting stroke, such a troublesome facet of her swooning game, looked renewed in the second round.

Her uncertain jab was gone with Wie needing just 23 putts, 12 fewer than she needed in the first round. A smooth, confident stroke helped Wie with 13 one-putts.

This renewal also has spread into Wie’s full swing.

Enamored for a time of stingers and sawed-off, three-quarter shots, Wie displayed a swing that was longer and more fluid again. Asked earlier this week if she were becoming too mechanical, she said her problem was more a tendency to analyze too much and to try to be too perfect. She said she’s working more now on just hitting shots.

Brittany Lang saw the difference playing alongside Wie on Friday.

“She just looked more relaxed,” Lang said. “My brother made the point to me that Michelle looks like she’s hitting more full shots than she had been playing. She looks like she’s getting more tempo with her swing. She’s a great player hitting stingers, but with the full swing she seems to be hitting it more solid.”

Wie has sought so much help for her putting woes the last few years. She has gone to all the gurus: Dave Stockton, Dave Pelz and Stan Utley. She even experimented with the belly putter, an unwieldy device she tried to master with numerous unsuccessful grips. She has stuck with a standard-length Nike prototype blade the last three months and putts left-hand low.

Over a recent dinner near Wie’s South Florida home in Jupiter, Wie got some sound advice from a trusted mentor, Meg Mallon, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain.

“She is like my second mother,” Wie said.

Mallon’s help was wrapped in lots of encouragement.

“I told her you cannot talk to one great player who has not gone through trials and tribulation during their career,” Mallon said. “We talked about her putting and a couple things maybe she wasn’t thinking about. I watched her at Shoprite in Atlantic City, and I told her she was making better strokes with more commitment, just giving her positive reinforcement. ”

Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, another South Floridian close to Wie, also gave Wie a couple putting drills to work on.

Wie’s long-time coach, David Leadbetter, has helped Wie fight through all her struggles. Wie continues to rely on him and recently expanded her team to include Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott and their Vision 54 program. Vision 54’s focus is on the “mental, emotional and spiritual” dimensions of the game.

“We worked on a lot of different drills and just believing in yourself,” Wie said. “Even when you're kind of not playing well, kind of try to look at the positives, and at least bring out one positive, one good thing, that you did and keep working on it.”

Wie understands one great round doesn’t mean more struggles aren’t awaiting. She called Friday part of a work in progress. Still, she needed Friday. She needed the reward for the work she is putting in to turning her game around.

“When you are playing this badly, it can really define who you are,” Wie said before the start of this U.S. Women’s Open. “I want to become someone who gets through it and becomes a stronger person because of it. I’m trying really hard. I’m practicing really hard.”

Mallon likes the attitude.

“By no means does this mean she’s out of it now, but she is doing the right things,” Mallon said.