GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP)—Michelle Wie, LPGA Tour champion.
Wie ended her long wait by tapping in a birdie putt Sunday at the LorenaOchoa Invitational, and her first tour title may finally quiet the skeptics whosecond-guessed her career decisions and questioned the fuss over a playerwithout a pro victory.
“Wowwwww …… never thought this would feel THIS great!!!!” Wie postedon her Twitter account.Other Popular Sports Stories
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The 20-year-old closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-stroke victory over PaulaCreamer. Wie finished it off in style, hitting a greenside bunker shot within afoot on the final hole.
When it was over, it was time for a celebration that was a decade in themaking. Wie pulled the ball from the 18th hole, looked up to the sky, let out abig sigh of relief, bounced up and down and pumped her right fist.
After all the near misses, after all the expectations, she was a winner.
“It’s definitely off my back,” Wie said. “I think that hopefully lifewill be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do.”
Solheim Cup teammates Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lincicome showered Wie onthe 18th green.
“Just seeing them come out and pour beer all over me, it was a greatfeeling,” Wie said. “I’ve always seen it on TV and I’ve always wanted peopleto pour beer on me. It was as great as I thought it was.”
Her parents, dad B.J. and mom Bo, were there, too, for an embrace.
“I think it’s just so awesome, seeing them on the 18th green and huggingthem,” Wie said. “You know, we have been through a lot as a family, and it’sjust so great that they are here to share my highs and to keep me up from thelows, as well.”
Wie earned $220,000 to push her season winnings just over $900,000. The wincame in her 65th LPGA Tour event—she had finished second six times.
Wie won the 2003 USGA Women’s Amateur Public Links, the Stanford student’sonly significant victory until Sunday.
“Right now it feels fantastic,” Wie said. “It’s a great year. I wentthrough some ups and downs … And obviously this tournament is the icing on thecake.”
Pressel (67), Jiyai Shin (71) and Cristie Kerr (72) were three back. Wiefinished at 13-under 275 after starting the day at the Guadalajara Country Clubtied for the lead with Kerr at 10 under.
“Congrats to michelle!!” Pressel tweeted.
Wie first qualified for a USGA event at age 10 and played an LPGA event whenshe was 12. She joined the LPGA this season and has begun to show the sizzlinggame that has made her arguably the biggest attraction in women’s golf.
Dressed in red with her lucky white Solheim Cup shoes, Wie had a few shakymoments but she was steadier down the stretch as her rivals faltered. In thepast, it’s often been the Hawaiian who has stumbled.
The 6-foot Wie stood tall despite a nagging sprained left ankle that forcedher to wear a large, black brace that extends 6 inches above her shoe top.
She had chances to pull away on the front nine, but couldn’t quite do it andfinished with a 2-under 34 at the turn—12 under for the tournament. She wentto 13 under with a birdie on 11, giving her a one-shot lead over Creamer andKerr. Wie bogeyed the next hole when her escape shot from under a cluster oftrees squarely hit a trunk, the ball rebounding into the fairway behind her.
But she made par through 17.
Creamer drew even with Wie with an eagle on 10. But two bogeys down thestretch ruined her chances of victory.
“I gave it a chance, and Michelle played great,” said Creamer, who hasbattled stomach problems for a year and fought off back and thumb injuries. Sheis winless this year after eight career victories.
“I feel a lot better with my golf,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate thatyou’re so close, yet you’re so far away.”
The co-leader with Wie after three rounds, Kerr played even on the frontnine before reaching 12 under with birdies on 10 and 11. After 12 holes, Wie,Creamer and Kerr were tied, but Kerr faded with bogeys on 15 and 16.
Shin, the rookie of the year, also slipped. Tournament host Ochoa shot 69 tofinish six back and Ai Miyazato, No. 2 on the money list behind Shin, was 10back after a 72.
Ochoa and Shin will battle next week for the player of the year award at theseason-ending LPGA Tour Championship in Houston. Nancy Lopez is the only playerto win both the rookie and player awards in the same season, accomplishing thefeat in 1978.
The LPGA, battered by economic problems and the forced resignation of itscommissioner this summer, needed this as much as Wie.
“Literally, when Michelle Wie is atop the leaderboard it’s like night andday and that’s star power,” LPGA spokesman David Higdon said the day beforeWie’s win.
Wie played PGA Tour events when she was 14—the biggest stage there is. Shewas criticized at the time for not focusing on women’s events. She turned pro in2005 before even finishing high school.
She ignored the criticism and, at 16, she was poised to become the firstwoman to qualify for the men’s U.S. Open before her putter failed her. Shortlyafter that she began to lose confidence and went into a long, painful slump thatwas made worse by a wrist injury that ruined her 2007 season.
She has slowly worked her way back, earning her LPGA card for this season,gaining credibility with players and emerging as a star at this year’s SolheimCup, going undefeated in four matches.
“It just taught me so much about handling that situation,” Wie said. “Andactually, I wore my Solheim shoes today. So I felt pretty lucky.”