Wie Struggles on Greens at Boise Open

Friday, September 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Michelle Wie had the biggest gallery at the Boise Open. She was hoping for a better score.

Wie, the 13-year-old girl playing in a men's tournament for the second time in a month, was easily the most popular player in the opening round of the Nationwide Tour event Thursday despite struggling and finishing with a 7-over 78.

``It was tough, really tough. The rough, I think it grew yesterday _ or even today,'' Wie said.

Wie had the largest gallery on the course. Many fans sported pins that read ``Go Michelle'' and the ovation Wie received when she was introduced at the first tee was louder than the one for playing partner Kevin Burton, who's from Boise.

``A lot of people were hooting and hollering, although I don't think we gave them much to hoot about,'' said Burton, who shot a 72. ``She's a very nice young lady. She's got a lot of game.''

Wie is the latest in this season's small trend of women crossing over to PGA-sanctioned events. Annika Sorenstam got it started in the Colonial, where she failed to make the cut but gained overwhelming support from the crowds. Suzy Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open, also missing the cut, and LPGA veteran Jan Stephenson has accepted an invitation to play at the Turtle Bay Championship on the Champions Tour in October.

While Sorenstam, Whaley and Stephenson are adults who have seen plenty of high-level competition, Wie just started the ninth grade. She'll be a long shot to become the first of the bunch to make a cut while playing against men.

The 6,769-yard course didn't require booming drives as much as accuracy, which Wie didn't have enough on the speedy greens at Hillcrest Country Club.

Wie struggled with her driver, but compensated by using smaller clubs off the tee. Her tee shots were often right with _ and sometimes past _ those of playing partners Burton and Joseph Summerhays and her early iron shots consistently reached the green. But she had very few short putts for birdies and the ones she did have just missed the hole.

``Usually those kind of putts are nothing to me. Maybe today something just happened. I couldn't make those putts go in,'' Wie said. ``I think I felt more comfortable making the long putts than those 4-footers.''

Wie's only birdie came on a putt that rolled downhill 20 feet and dropped in the cup. She followed it with a fist pump and a very visible sigh of relief.

``I don't know. I thought I was going to shoot 54 today,'' she said.

The celebration was short-lived. Her second shot from the rough on No. 2 went about 10 yards as she bogeyed three of the next four holes. Only a 20-foot chip she rolled in on the third hole saved her from four straight bogeys.

Wie finished with nine pars, eight bogeys and the one birdie.

Despite her struggles, the tall and slender teen never seemed to lose her composure and was still smiling on the back nine even after falling further behind on a crisp, sunny afternoon. Charles Warren led Thursday after shooting a 6-under 65 and held a two-stroke lead over Brian Wilson and John Curley.

Wie, Jason Hill and David Mathis were tied for 151st with their rounds of 78, ahead of Parker McLachlin (79) and Michael Christie (80).

This is Wie's second venture against men in the last month. She played respectably in a Canadian tour event in August, but missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 79. This week's cut was expected to be around even par on Friday.