Surprise! Wie back in the lead at a major

By Randall MellAugust 3, 2017, 5:31 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Somewhere in the cosmos Old Tom Morris must be scratching his head.

Young Tom Morris, too.

Really, aren’t we all?

Michelle Wie is impossible to figure out, but here she is again, sitting atop a major championship leaderboard after blistering Kingsbarns Golf Links with an 8-under-par 64, a course record for women and the third lowest score posted in any Women’s British Open since it became a major in 2001.

Three weeks after withdrawing from the U.S. Women’s Open with a neck injury, Wie looks back on track to a resurgent year as the early leader in Scotland.

Through the years, Wie has taken many detours on that road to greatness we all thought she was navigating as a teen phenom, some of them awful turns where we were sure, “Yeah, this time she is lost for good.”

Yet here she is again, flashing more promise.

Here on the outskirts of St. Andrews, Wie’s efforts leave a special impression. Old Tom and Young Tom are buried at the St. Andrews Cathedral Graveyard just seven miles down the road from Kingsbarns. The Old Course, the Home of Golf, is just eight miles down that same road.

Ricoh Women’s British Open: Articles, photos and videos

“The fact that I got the course record today, that’s a huge honor for me,” Wie said.

The American left the morning wave one shot ahead of South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim and two ahead of fellow American Lindy Duncan.

Wie cautioned it’s only Thursday, but she has her eye on the bigger prize, on adding another major championship title to the U.S. Women’s Open she won three years ago.

“Winning the Women's British Open has always been a huge goal of mine,” Wie said. “That's a long way from now. I'm just really proud of myself, for how I set myself up the first day.”

Wie’s 64 is topped in Women’s British Open major history only by Mirim Lee’s 62 in the first round at Woburn last year and by Minea Blomqvist’s 62 in the third round at Sunningdale in 2004.

After a rough start Thursday, Wie was all smiles coming home, making birdies at the last three holes, six of the last eight.

“I skulled a lob wedge on the second hole, which is nice, straight over the green, so started with that bogey,” Wie said. “Kind of got me a little pissed for a little bit. But it was fun out there.”

Wie, 27, has made many of us scratch our heads in the unorthodox ways she navigates her way back from all the detours, from all the injuries and slumps.

Notably, her 64 didn’t come with three different putting grips within the round, something she has been doing quite effectively this summer, rotating among conventional, left-hand low and claw grips during a single round. She stuck with the left-hand low throughout Thursday’s round.

This was as conventional as we’ve seen Wie set up over putts in a long time. No tabletop stance. No quasi-Nicklaus crouch. No potpourri of grips.

Wie said playing the Ladies Scottish Open last week helped her sort out a putting approach.

“I came over to Scotland last week and it was so windy that I couldn't really do the claw,” Wie said. “It just was moving all over the place, so just tried to figure something out that I could putt on links. So I'm glad I came over last week so I could figure all that out.”

That doesn’t mean we might not see other grips before Sunday comes.

“That could change,” she said.

Wie’s ball striking was impressive. She hit 13 of 14 fairways and all but one green in regulation.

“Michelle’s normal ball flight is pretty low,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She probably has more lag in her swing than anybody on tour except, maybe, Lexi Thompson. By lag, I mean how her hands are leading the club to such a large extent that she is always de-lofting the club. It is perfect for windy conditions.”

While Wie’s new stock fade will be tested in higher winds, Leadbetter said she can hold shots against the wind with straighter ball flights.

“The good thing with Michelle, is she has such an array of shots, and she has a lot of variety with her short game,” Leadbetter said.

Wie has an array of eclectic weapons, too. She put up her 64 with an 11-wood and a 9-wood in her bag.

“The 11-wood replaces my 5-iron, the 9-wood my 4-hybrid,” Wie said.

After breaking through to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014, Wie lost her way again, with left hip, back and knee injuries preceding a slump. She hasn’t won since.

With a new stock fade this year, with her more upright putting stance, Wie has righted herself again, with form that has launched her into contention more regularly.

Wie had four finishes of T-4 or better in a five-tournament stretch this summer, before the neck injury struck. She withdrew in pain during the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open in Bedminster, N.J., just three weeks ago.

“I just hopped over to New York City, and my doctor is over there, and had an epidural and a block injection,” Wie said. “It went very well, was very successful.”

Wie was asked if she’s finally feeling injury free.

“I am not going to answer that question, because I feel like every time I say I'm good, something happens,” Wie said. “Fingers crossed. Knock on wood.”

Leadbetter says Wie’s improving game is growing her confidence, her ambitions with it.

“People are saying she doesn’t really have the desire to be No. 1, but I can tell you she has a great desire to be No. 1, no two ways about it,” Leadbetter said. “I’ve told her I think her best golf is ahead of her. I really believe that. She has the talent, and with the belief, if she stays healthy, she can be a real factor for the next two or three years.”

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Watch: Pieters snaps club ... around his neck

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 1:19 pm

After opening in 3-over 75, Thomas Pieters was in no mood for more poor play on Friday.

Unfortunately for Pieters, he bogeyed two of his first three holes in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship and then didn't like his second shot at the par-5 fourth.

Someone - or some thing - had to pay, and an innocent iron bore the brunt of Pieters' anger.

Pieters made par on the hole, but at 5 over for the tournament, he was five shots off the cut line.

It's not the first time a club has faced Pieters' wrath. 

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Woods would 'love' to see Tour allow shorts

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:59 pm

Players on the European Tour are allowed to wear shorts during practices and pro-ams.

The PGA of America permitted players to show some leg while prepping for last year’s PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods would like to see the PGA Tour follow suit.

"I would love it," he said Thursday in a Facebook Live with Bridgestone Golf. "We play in some of the hottest climates on the planet. We usually travel with the sun, and a lot of our events are played in the summer, and then on top of that when we have the winter months here a lot of the guys go down to South Africa and Australia where it's summer down there.

"It would be nice to wear shorts. Even with my little chicken legs, I still would like to wear shorts."

Caddies are currently allowed to wear shorts on Tour, during events.

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Feasting again: McIlroy shoots 65 to lead BMW PGA

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:04 pm

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET

Rory McIlroy made seven birdies and no bogeys on Friday for a 7-under 65 and the second-round lead at the BMW PGA Championship.

After opening in 67, McIlroy was among the early groups out on Day 2 at Wentworth Club. He made three birdies and no bogeys on the par-35 front nine on Friday, and then went on a run after the turn.

McIlroy made four consecutive birdies, beginning at the par-5 12th. That got him to 12 under, overall, and gave him a clear advantage over the field. With two closing par-5s, a very low number was in sight. But, as he did on Day 1, McIlroy finished par-par.

"I've made four pars there [on 17 and 18] when I really should be making at least two birdies, but I played the other par-5s well," McIlroy said. "It all balances itself out."

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy has made 14 birdies and two bogeys through two rounds. At 12 under, he has a three-stroke lead over Sam Horsfield.

"The work has paid off, to some degree," McIlroy said of his practice with swing coach Michael Bannon. "I still feel like I'm hitting some loose shots out there. But, for the most part, it's been really good. If I can keep these swing thoughts and keep going in the right direction, hopefully this is the type of golf I'll be able to produce."

This event has been feast or famine for McIlroy. He won here in 2014, but has three missed cuts in his other three starts. This week, however, he’ll be around for the weekend and is in position for his first European Tour victory since the 2016 Irish Open and his second worldwide victory of the year (Arnold Palmer Invitational).

"I have the confidence that I'm playing well and I can go out and try to just replicate what I did the day before," McIlroy said about his weekend approach with the lead. "On the first tee box tomorrow I'll be thinking about what I did today. Trying to just keep the same thoughts, make the same swings. I went a couple better today than I did yesterday. I'm not sure I'll keep that progression going but something similiar tomorrow would be nice."

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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."