Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Wie proves she can mix it with golfing's big boys

AP , BRIMLEY, MICHIGAN

Michelle Wie felt she had nothing to prove, then went ahead and did it anyway.

Wie, the 13-year-old sensation widely felt to be the future of women's golf, showed she can play with the men in Thursday's first round of the Bay Mills Open Players Championship, the final event of the Canadian Tour season.

The long-hitting Wie, whose drives were frequently over 300 yards at Wild Bluff Golf Course, had a birdie and three bogeys in a round of 2-over 74. That put her seven shots behind Michael Harris, the leader when play was delayed for the second time by a thunderstorm sweeping across the Upper Peninsula.

Only 24 of 150 players had finished when play resumed in the early evening and many had yet to even tee off. That meant some would have to finish their first round early yesterday.

Except for a few close friends, however, hardly anyone cared about Harris -- a former University of Michigan star seeking his first win as a professional -- and the others in the field. Wie was who the fans came to see. And she lived up to her billing.

"I wasn't nervous at all," said Wie, whom Tom Lehman once dubbed "Big Wiesy" because her swing reminds so many people of Ernie Els. "I was too sleepy to be nervous on the first hole. Besides, I've been playing with guys for quite a while now."

Not in a setting like this.

Wie is the third female to compete in a professional men's golf event this summer. Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley failed to make the cut in their PGA Tour attempts earlier this season. There is a chance that Wie will, as the cut in this event last year was 5 over.

"I didn't play great," Wie said. "I made two stupid bogeys, and I had two birdie putts I should have made. I think I could have been under par today."

Heavy wind was a factor when she teed off at 8:10am, with two other amateurs: Mike Mezei of Lethbridge, Alberta, and Michigan Amateur champion Colby Beckstrom.

Wie's approach to the third hole rolled off the back of the green, the ball resting against the collar of the second cut. Her 4-foot putt to save par lipped out. She bogeyed No. 8 when her tee shot on the par-3 took a crazy bounce into the right rough and her chip sailed 25 feet past the pin.

But she almost eagled the 545-yard 9th when her 70-foot putt from the first cut of greenside rough rolled 4 feet left of the cup. That birdie enabled Wie to make the turn at 1-over 37.

The horn sounded for the first thunderstorm as Wie was lining up a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 10. When play resumed, 1 hour and 55 minutes later, she missed that putt and settled for a par.

"Before the rain delay, I thought I putted well," said Wie, who earlier this summer became the youngest player to win a USGA title for adults at the US Women's Amateur Public Links. "Afterward, nothing would go in."

Her mother, Bo, gave Wie a banana and she settled into a steady string of pars the rest of the way, including a nice save after hitting her second shot into some weeds on the bank of a creek crossing the 17th fairway. For the record, she beat both playing partners by a stroke.

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