- Eric Adelson, ESPN The Magazine
- 0 Shares
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Michelle Wie busted out of hibernation on Thursday at LPGA Tour Q-school, throwing off the robotic shackles of her opening round and going for broke like when she first burst on to the world golf scene.
The result was a Wie 3.0 that looked a lot like the Wie 1.0 who won millions in sponsorship money and had hundreds of fans marching behind her every size-11½ step.
Friday, she will start Round 3 at 10-under. And for the first time since the Evian Masters in July 2006, she will wake up with a share of the lead in a tournament.
Skeptics can point to the flawless conditions and a Champions course that might be the easiest she's ever played in any tournament. But as her playing partner, Alison Walshe, said, "Anyone who's shooting 65, they're playing pretty damn good."
Wie's round Thursday started as her round Wednesday ended -- conservatively. She grabbed a 3-wood on the 10th tee even though the closest hazard was a traffic jam on Interstate 4 in Orlando.
Wie's front nine was, much like her first round, efficient but somewhat boring: Nice tee shot, safe approach to the green, two putt. Repeat. There was one noticeable difference early, however: She began using her driver, and used it well, hitting fairways on Nos. 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 18. She birdied 12 and 15, but on such an easy track, her game and her demeanor didn't sparkle. Even on the par-3 17th, when she blocked her tee shot to the right and chipped in from 40 feet for her third birdie of the back nine, she hardly celebrated at all.
Then came the front nine, and everything changed.
Wie almost looked as if she couldn't help herself, knowing she was supposed to play it safe but giving way to the spirit of the 14-year-old daredevil who took every chance because she felt like it.
Instead of holding her follow-through, she let her torso twist and watched her drives scream down the fairway. She missed the second, fifth and seventh fairways, over-rotating and pulling her shots slightly to the left, but didn't seem to care.
What she did seem to care about was everything else. Her competitive side resurfaced over those final nine holes, staring straight ahead in fury when she missed makable birdie putts on Nos. 2 and 3. But instead of spiraling into mental numbness as she has in recent months, she sprung right back and made four straight birdies, starting on the fifth. She waved to the galleries when she made good shots, gabbed with her caddy and consulted with him on putts, and even laughed at a joke on the sixth tee.
The gallery swelled as all this took place, growing from a morose collection of two dozen in the morning to a relative stampede of more than 100 by the afternoon. Fans seemed to appear like zombies in "Night of the Living Dead," multiply three and four fold with every good shot Wie made.
"This is a seminar!" raved one spectator. "She's in a zone!" said another.
The signature hole was the par-4 eighth, which is one of the very few on the Champions course with threats. It has trees and water on both sides.
Coming off three birdies and playing bogey-free all day, this was the perfect chance to take a 5-wood and lob one into the heart of the fairway. But not the new/old Wie. She took a driver and crushed a perfect shot that rolled close to 300 yards away. Then Wie grabbed a wedge and dropped her ball eight feet behind the pin. She had a left-to-right read, which normally would demonize her. But Wie sank it for her 23rd and second-to-last putt of the day. After a par on the No. 9, even her nondemonstrative parents gave each other a high-five.
Wie finished with a 65, her lowest score as a professional that didn't precede a disqualification.
Wie signed her card and hustled to the clubhouse, sticking to her decision not to do any interviews until Sunday. But Walshe marveled at her ball contact.
"It's constantly solid," she said. "She rarely makes mistakes."
That's something that hasn't been said about Wie in a while.
Granted, it's only Q-school. It's only Thursday. And it's only one good round.
But hey, you gotta start over somewhere.
Eric Adelson's book on Michelle Wie will be released in 2009, but is available for preorder. He can be reached at email@example.com.
3dESPN Stats & Information