Wie makes impressive debut

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2004

HONOLULU Michelle Wie hardly looked out of place Thursday at the Sony Open. Give her time, and the 14-year-old might prove she belongs on the PGA Tour.

Wie, believed to be the youngest player ever on the PGA Tour, made three birdies in a respectable round of 2-over 72 that left her nine strokes behind Carlos Franco.

Still, the ninth-grader at nearby Punahou School made quite an impression.

''I looked at her today as another player,'' said Craig Bowden, her playing partner who posted a 70.

Only when they chatted did Bowden realize this was no ordinary teenager playing on a sponsor's exemption.

''We don't have a lot in common,'' Bowden said. ''I asked her when she was going to get her driver's license.''

Wie is the third female to play on the PGA Tour in the last eight months, following Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial and Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley at the Greater Hartford Open.

Both missed the cut, and Wie probably will do the same.

She was in a tie for 105th among 144 players; the top 70 and ties qualify for the weekend.

''If I play the way I did today, with a couple of putts falling in, I think I could make the cut,'' she said. ''I think I can shoot under par tomorrow.''

Jesper Parnevik had a 65, and when told what Wie shot, his expression went from amazement to relief.

''That was my first goal today, to beat her,'' Parnevik said. ''That's something you would hear about forever. Annika is one thing. But if you have a 14-year-old girl ...''

Wie finished with the same score as three former major champions (Shaun Micheel, Tom Lehman and Jeff Sluman), and ahead of players such as Scott Hoch and Adam Scott (73).

Parnevik considered her youth and inexperience when he said, ''I think it's 100 times more impressive than Annika playing Colonial.''

When Sorenstam missed the cut, she said didn't belong on the PGA Tour.

Wie doesn't feel the same way.

''I think I learned that I can play here, but I have to work harder on my game to be in the winner's circle,'' Wie said. ''I never felt out of place.''

Franco, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, made an eagle on No. 9 and was flawless on the back to shoot 63.

Aaron Baddeley, who lost in a playoff last year at Waialae, was among those at 66. Paul Azinger got his year off to a good start with a 67.

All of them played in virtual anonymity.

Craig Barlow noticed the gallery swarming around Wie on the fifth tee, turned to his playing partners and said, ''I didn't know Tiger was here.''

''There wasn't a ton of people,'' he said. ''But she gobbled them up.''

Wie could not have asked for better conditions.

One day after 35 mph gusts knocked out electricity to Wie's home in Honolulu, Waialae was graced with sunny skies and a breeze so slight that the palm fronds barely moved.

Plus, she started her round on the 10th hole, the easiest par 4 on the course.

Wie slightly popped up her 3-wood, although it landed in the middle of the fairway. She pulled her wedge and clipped a palm frond, leaving her 70 feet from the hole, then made a nice lag to escape with par.

Wie's first birdie came on No. 12, when she ripped a drive some 25 yards beyond Bowden, and hit a 9-iron into about 10 feet. The putt curled into the cup, putting Wie's name in lights the electronic scoreboard just down the fairway.

It didn't last long.

From the middle of the fairway on No. 13, she hit into a bunker and took two shots to get on the green, chipping to 2 feet to limit the damage to a bogey. She bogeyed the next hole, too, hitting into the another bunker.

Close to 3,000 fans a Sunday crowd for the Sony Open followed along. That included her father, B.J. Wie, who wore a ''Wie-Go'' shirt and a button on his visor that said, ''Michelle, No Ka Oi.''

That's Hawaiian for ''Michelle is the best.''

That wasn't the case Thursday, but it wasn't bad.

Sorenstam faced far greater scrutiny at the Colonial, in part because she was a proven player with more than 40 LPGA victories at the time, including four majors.

Wie made the cut in six out of the seven LPGA Tour events she played last year two of them majors but she badly missed the cut in her two men's tournaments on the Nationwide and Canadian tours. Her best score was a 74.

Wie looked like she was headed for a high score, but she holed a 20-foot par putt on No. 4, and followed a three-putt bogey with a 3-iron out of the rough to 25 feet for birdie on No. 6.

She finished her round in style, blasting out of the greenside bunker on the par-5 ninth to 10 feet and holing it for birdie and a 72 one stroke worse than Sorenstam's opening round at Colonial.

She was three shots better than Kevin Hayashi, whom she calls ''Uncle Kevin.'' He qualified as the top club pro from the Aloha Section, and when the round was over, Hayashi presented Wie with a purple lei.

''I'm not the only guy she's going to beat,'' Hayashi said after his 75. ''The only thing we have in common is our age. I'm 41, she's 14. At least we've got the same numbers.''

Wie is unlike any other kid her age on the golf course, any way.

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