Wie shows strength at Kraft Nabisco


2007 Kraft Nabisco ChampionshipRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Michelle Wie muscled her way into weekend contention at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She was all over the place with her driver Friday on the Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course, hitting just five fairways.

That’s supposed to spell doom this week with the deep rough swallowing balls and dreams in equal measure.

Strangely, in her waywardness, Wie showed something that makes her swing coach believe she’s becoming more dangerous than she’s ever been.

“All the strength is back in her wrists and forearms,” David Leadbetter said.

Wie impressively gouged her way to a 1-under-par 71 and a tie for 10th heading into Saturday’s third round. She’s at 2-under 142, five shots behind the leader, Song-Hee Kim.

“I think it’s definitely been a struggle,” Wie said of her battle with her driver. “I’ve been fighting a lot, but I also feel I’m at a good place. I feel like I’m not that far off.”

Wie managed to muscle her way to 14 greens in regulation on Friday despite all the awkward spots she drove the ball. That’s the same number of greens she reached in regulation Thursday when she hit 11 fairways. All week long players have talked about the struggle to advance shots from the thick and sticky rough. Wie regularly muscled smart shots out of that rough and onto safe places on the green. She left herself a lot of two putts while avoiding muscling her way into worst patches around the greens.

Though Leadbetter would rather see Wie splitting fairways, he was encouraged that she fought her way into contention. A year ago, Leadbetter couldn’t have envisioned Wie putting up a 71 from the ugly patches of rough she played from Friday. Though the injured wrists that sent her spiraling into a two-year slump were healing when she played here last year, she lacked the strength of her youthful rise to prominence. She was trying to guide her ball around tight tracks.

“Last year, she would have had no hope from that rough,” Leadbetter said. “It’s sticky and thick there this year. With her strength, with her angle of attack, she can extricate herself.”

Wie averaged 306 yards per drive in her opening round.

“That big lag is back in her swing,” Leadbetter said.

Wie played alongside Kraft Nabisco defending champion Brittany Lincicome, whose power-hitting prowess earned her the nickname “Bam Bam.” They took turns slamming drives past each other. Wie was more than a match for Lincicome.

“Michelle’s long and strong again,” Leadbetter said.

Wie, 20, isn’t going to win her first major from the rough, but her ability to keep herself in the hunt when her driver’s not cooperating may prove critical to breaking through. She gained back the confidence she lost in that slump winning her first LPGA title at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational last November. She’s playing with more confidence in a major this week than she’s shown in three years.

“I feel like I’m getting better and better,” Wie said. “Hopefully tomorrow I’ll hit more fairways.”

Even with all those errant drives, Wie has made just one bogey over 36 holes.

Wie has a good history at the Kraft Nabisco. She seemed destined to win here someday with her strong debut. The first time she teed it up, she played her way into the final Sunday pairing with Annika Sorenstam and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, who went on to win. Just 13, Wie tied for ninth in that Kraft Nabisco debut. She returned a year later and finished fourth. At 16, she tied for third.

In 19 majors, Wie has seven top-10 finishes, six of them a tie for fifth or better, but she hasn’t contended in one since tying for third at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2006. She’ll be looking to change that this weekend but will need the help of her putter, too. Wie missed a 2-foot birdie chance at the 17th hole, her eighth hole of the day.

“It was stupid, I pushed it,” Wie said.

Wie will be looking for more birdie chances on Saturday.

“I just gotta make more putts,” she said.