Wie Fits Right in With a 72 at Sony Open

Friday, January 16th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ Michelle Wie hammered two drives more than 300 yards, and hit a few in the rough. She buckled her knees when a par putt lipped out, and waved to the gallery when the birdie putts went in.

Except for the hoop earrings and nail polish, she looked like most other players Thursday at the Sony Open.

The 14-year-old girl played like them, too.

Wie made history at Waialae Country Club as the youngest player in PGA Tour record books, making three birdies in a respectable round of 2-over 72.

That left her nine shots behind Carlos Franco and in a tie for 105th among 144 players.

But it left the PGA Tour regulars in awe.

``Amazing,'' Jesper Parnevik said after a 65. ``I think it's 100 times more impressive than Annika playing Colonial.''

Annika Sorenstam shot a 1-over 71 in the first round at Colonial, where she became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour. She followed with a 74 and missed the cut by five.

Comparisons are difficult to make.

Sorenstam had three months of buildup, creating enormous pressure when she stepped to the 10th tee at Colonial with more than 5,000 people lining the fairways.

Wie is the third female on the PGA Tour in the last eight months _ Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley missed the cut at the Greater Hartford Open _ and some of the buzz is gone. There were about 2,000 people watching pop a 3-wood down the middle at No. 10, a gallery that grew to 3,000 by the end of the day.

Sorenstam had won more than 40 times on the LPGA Tour, including four majors.

Wie is the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links champion _ the youngest ever, of course _ and probably faces more pressure taking her midterms in Social Studies at nearby Punahou School.

The golf looked similar, though.

Wie didn't look out of place on the PGA Tour. Give her time, she might prove she belongs.

``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 faced an afternoon tee time Friday, where she likely would have to shoot at least 67 _ her best score at Waialae is a 65 _ to have any chance of making the cut.

``That would be the biggest sports miracle. Don't you think?'' Parnevik said.

Wie didn't see it that way.

She had two short par putts catch most of the hole before lipping out. She played conservatively, often aiming for the middle of the green.

``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.''

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 was told that Wie had a 72, and 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 ...''

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

Wie couldn't 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.

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 other bunker.

She could've let the round get away from her, but Wie finished in style. She hit a 3-iron from 201 yards out of thick rough that ran up the green to 25 feet for birdie on No. 6, then blasted out of the greenside bunker to about 12 feet on the par-5 ninth for her third birdie.

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.''

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.''