After stepping away from golf, Wie playing with renewed confidence

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2014, 4:24 pm

Michelle Wie is playing with a renewed bounce in her step so far in this new season. The former phenom is playing with an intensity and desire we haven’t seen for awhile.

We saw it Saturday at the Honda LPGA Thailand, where Wie’s 3-under-par 69 moved her into a tie for second place, four shots behind Anna Nordqvist.

The effort puts Wie in the final pairing Sunday with a chance to win her third LPGA title, her first in more than three years. She’ll tee it up with Nordqvist and Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, who is also tied for second.

“It’s fun being in contention,” Wie said after Saturday’s round.

Those words were music to the ears of her swing coach, David Leadbetter, because he has watched the joy leave her game the last couple seasons.

He saw her grinding too hard to find the form that led so many to believe she would dominate the women’s game. He could see the disappointment wearing her down when the hard work wasn’t rewarded.

“I think she fell out of love with the game to an extent,” Leadbetter said. “If you’re not in love with the game, the work it requires can become drudgery.”

So at the end of last year, Leadbetter advised Wie to take five weeks off. She did. She stepped up her fitness routine, but she didn’t play or practice for five weeks.

“I think it’s the first time since she was 5 years old that she has gone that long without touching a golf club,” Leadbetter said. “We had a little boot camp before the start of this year, and you could see she was really refreshed, really ready to go.”

Wie, 24, didn’t just take a break from the game. She also took a break from her parents.

B.J. and Bo Wie did not accompany her to the LPGA season opener in the Bahamas last month, Michelle’s first start of the 2014 season. It might well have been the first time her parents didn’t escort her to a tournament.

“Everyone knows her parents have been very involved,” Leadbetter said. “Sometimes, she rebels. She’s a young woman now, and she has demanded more freedom.”

Wie tied for 13th at the Pure Silk Bahamas. Sunday’s test in Thailand will be different. She hasn’t won since the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2010. Final round nerves will really test where her game’s at this early in the season. She could get a giant boost of confidence playing well in the final round, or learn just how much more work is left to do.

“I know I want it,” Wie said of winning. “It’s not a question to me how much I want it. I really want that win, but I’m not going to put added pressure on myself."

Ask Wie her goals for 2014, and she won’t say winning. She’ll say it’s being consistent. She believes that will lead to winning.

“I think mentally she’s in a great place now,” Leadbetter said.

Wie is hitting the ball better, especially her driver, which has betrayed her the last few seasons. Wie led the LPGA in driving distance in 2010, averaging 274 yards per drive. She was 33rd in driving distance last year, averaging 253 yards per drive.

A lot of the falloff is due to the fact that she hit so many more 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee last year. That’s a function of her driver betraying her too often, and losing confidence in the club that helped make her dominant as a young teen.

In Thailand, Wie’s bombing her driver everywhere. Yes, it’s a course with plenty of room, but it’s more than that. Leadbetter sees her confidence returning with the driver.

“When she has confidence hitting her driver, that’s a good sign,” Leadbetter said.

When her driver was not cooperating last year, she played more conservatively, gearing down with those 3-woods and 5-woods.

“With confidence in her driver, she will be able to play more aggressively when she needs to do so,” Leadbetter said. “She can play to her strengths.”

Of course, Wie’s putting will likely have the final word on whether she wins again. Her move to the unusual “table-top stance,” has helped. She jumped from 119th in putts per greens in regulation in 2012 to 25th last year. Her stance is evolving. She isn’t bent at 90 degrees at the waist anymore. She jokes that she’s got a little more “drawbridge” action now, becoming slightly more erect.

“She’s comfortable with it,” Leadbetter said.

Come Sunday, we will see how comfortable Wie is being back in contention.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”