Elusive win within Wie's grasp
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France -- When Michelle Wie looks back on her week at the Evian Masters, it could well be that the hole she remembers most will be No. 18. An eagle there on Wednesday, coming after two bogeys in the previous four holes, kick-started a remarkable run of golf that has positioned the talented teen within striking distance of her first victory as a professional. And a birdie on No. 18 on Friday gave Wie a 70 in the third round to put her at 11-under-par 205, one stroke behind Karrie Webb going into the final round.
Playing remarkably steady -- she's made only four bogeys in 54 holes -- Wie has given herself an opportunity to do something no one has seen her do in three years: Win.
If Wie is to walk away victorious, it will come in a most demanding fashion.
She'll play the final round with Webb, a Hall of Famer with seven major championships to her credit, and Laura Davies, who needs two more LPGA victories to get into the Hall of Fame. Davies also eagled No. 18 to finish at 206, two strokes behind Webb and even with Se Ri Pak, who has earned enough points to qualify for the Hall of Fame.
Playing two groups in front of Wie in the last round with a chance to put pressure on the final threesomes will be Lorena Ochoa, who is four back at 208, and Annika Sorenstam, who birdied two of the last three holes to claw her way back within five of the lead at 209.
"The course played a lot harder today," said Wie after she erased a bogey on No. 17 -- where she flew the green from 114 yards -- with a two-putt birdie on No. 18. "The pins were a lot trickier, and I felt like I played smarter. I'll play the same way tomorrow."
Although Wie certainly thought her way around the Evian Masters Golf Club extremely well, it was on No. 18 that she displayed a power that only a few others in women's golf possess. On the 467-yard par-5, Wie, no doubt still a little hot from the bogey on the previous hole, took out her anger on the ball and rocketed a drive 326 yards, leaving a three-quarter pitching wedge from 141 yards to the pin. Webb, no short hitter, was outdriven by 45 yards by her playing partner, and needed a 5-iron from 186 yards to reach the back bunker, from which she played a marvelous shot to three feet to make birdie and take a one-stroke lead into the final 18 holes.
"I struggled through the middle part of the back nine -- hit one O.B. on No. 12 and missed the fairway left on 13 -- but I feel comfortable on the greens now, and you either feel comfortable on these greens or you don't," Webb said after signing for her 69.
"There are low numbers to be shot out there, so I don't even look at it that way for tomorrow," she said after being asked if she felt like she had been playing match play. "There are a lot of great players behind me. You have to stay aggressive. Anyone within five shots of the lead, I'd say, is still in it."
One of those who is well within striking distance is Davies, five years removed from her last LPGA win. Her eagle on No. 18 from 15 feet closed out a 67, tying Morgan Pressel for the low round of the day.
"If I can get to the back nine within a couple, then I fancy my chances," Davies said. "We'll see how it goes. I'll probably get to tomorrow morning and be nervous, but I don't think I will because I feel really good. I'm driving it well, my irons are good, I'm putting well, and I haven't putted well this season."
Davies was one of a handful of players who benefited from Webb's stumble in the middle of the back nine. Truth be told, the key hole of the tournament could very well be No. 12 in the third round. Webb's double bogey there after driving out of bounds squandered a three-stroke advantage she had built and kept a bunch of players -- including Ochoa and Sorenstam -- in the tournament.
Wie, Webb and Ochoa started the third round tied for the lead at 9 under par, one stroke ahead of Pak and two better than Mi Hyun Kim. Sorenstam, Paula Creamer and Lorie Kane were three back at 6 under par. Davies and Shani Waugh were four back. Of those, only Davies made a move. Creamer and Kane turned in 74s, Ochoa stumbled late to a 73, and Sorenstam got started too late and had to rally to shoot a 71.
Webb rolled in a 4-footer for birdie on No. 1 to get her round off on the right foot, then made four birdies in a six-hole stretch beginning on No. 5 to open up that three-stroke lead at 14 under par. Her domination of the front nine has been complete, as Webb has played those holes 14 under par in the first three rounds. She is 2 over par, however, on the back nine and will need to perform better there in the final round to protect her lead.
But things can change quickly in golf, as witnessed by Wie, who had bogeyed Nos. 14 and 17 -- both par-3s -- in the first round and was at a lackluster 1 under par before rolling in a 20-footer on the 18th for eagle to finish with a 69, three strokes off the first-round lead. Beginning there, Wie played the next 28 holes at 10 under par. That run got her to where she is now.
One of the few things Wie has yet to prove on the golf course is the ability to close out a tournament. Her last victory was three years ago, in the Women's Amateur Public Links, and the two times she has had a share of the lead going into the final round of an LPGA event -- at the U.S. Women's Open in both 2005 and this year -- she closed with an 82 and a 73, respectively.
This has been a year of enormous progress for Wie -- she has finished in the top-five in all five LPGA events she has played. All she needs to do now is prove she can win. And that could come Saturday.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.