- Ron Sirak, Golf
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HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- Michelle Wie, playing in a no-win situation and with no driver, but she still managed to cobble together a gutsy 1-over-par 73 on Thursday in the first round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
Following a brilliant strategy devised by swing coach David Leadbetter, the 17-year-old phenom, who ruffled plenty of feathers last week with her withdrawal at the Ginn Tribute, finished a marathon five-and-a-half-hour round in the fading light of day and before 13 people in the bleachers and a few dozen walking the course. Her effort managed to raise as many questions as it answered.
The outcome was probably the best Wie could have hoped for. Whether it is an injured wrist, an out-of-synch swing, a battered psyche or a combination of the three, Wie is far from her top form. Yet she figured out a way to avoid the embarrassing performance she turned in last week when she quit after 16 holes while 14-over par.
The box she was in was this: If she had played great at Bulle Rock, already skeptical LPGA players would have doubted she was injured when she abruptly withdrew last week. If she had played poorly they would have questioned why she was continuing to play while hurt.
The middle-of-the-pack number Wie shot -- she was T-47 after the first round -- fit comfortably into the explanation she gave earlier this week as to why she was too injured to play two holes on Thursday at the Ginn but was back out practicing on Saturday. That's the act Annika Sorenstam said showed a lack of respect and a lack of class, and for which Wie said she felt no need to apologize. Certainly, players were still questioning whether her scaled-back game at the event was because of an injury or because of a lack of confidence in her swing.
Playing with a Velcro support on her left wrist and swinging at about 75 percent, Wie never used driver off the tee but still managed to make three birdies in one four-hole stretch that was an entertaining reminder of the quality of play that she is capable of when on her game. A spin-back wedge to a foot for her final birdie of the day on No. 8 was a display of remarkable skill. As she has been throughout her career, she was erratic with the putter.
Still, given the pressure she played the round under, Wie managed to show admirable composure. She was clearly struggling with her swing, but she figured out ways to avoid the kind of disaster she experienced at the Ginn when she made a 10 on one hole. The game plan was to scale every back.
"We're playing Betty Boop golf," Leadbetter said as he followed Wie, who finished the day six strokes off the lead. "We boop it here, we boop it there." He said he decided to leave the driver in the bag because less lofted clubs are the most difficult to hit when playing below full-strength. Noting the large crowds that filed into Bulle Rock in advance of Wie's 2:16 p.m. tee time, Leadbetter said: "I hope they aren't NASCAR fans coming for a crash."
If they were they were disappointed, although early on that's exactly where it appeared things were heading. Playing the back nine first, Wie missed a 3-footer on No. 12 for a bogey and then bogeyed No. 13 after driving into the left rough, one of many errant tee shots during the round despite the fact she used fairway metals and hybrid clubs off the tee.
On No. 15 -- a par 5 -- it appeared as if a crash was in the works. Wie missed the fairway 40 yards to the right, failed to get her second shot out of the deep rough and ended up making a double-bogey 7 to fall 4-over par after just six holes.
After hitting 3 shots on the hole, Wie asked a rules official if her physical therapist, Leanne Quinn, could work on her sore left wrist. Therapy is allowed in such a situation as long as it does not slow up play. Apparently, Quinn was able to work wonders. Wie made birdies on Nos. 16, 18 and 1 to pull back to 1-over par, exactly the she score she finished with.
"It's a work in progress," Wie said. "I'm not 100 percent. I'm not where I want to be. I'll get better. I'll get stronger." She will likely have to shoot another 73 on Friday to make the cut and play on the weekend. Although that is certainly a very reasonable number for her, by leaving the driver in the bag she gives up the opportunity to reach three of the four par-5 holes in 2 shots.
Michelle Wie will look for more answers to her scrambled game in Friday's second round. And among the questions that still remain are these:
• If she is still injured enough not to be able to hit driver why not rest and let the wrist heal?
• If the problem is with swing mechanics and confidence, is a major championship the place to work out those problems?
• But perhaps the most important question is this one: What can Michelle Wie do to make LPGA players believe she pulled out last week because she was hurt rather than because she feared being disqualified for the year for failing to break 88?
The kid is truly backed into a corner, in a no-win situation that perhaps only an apology can rectify. One thing is clear: Wie creates buzz when she plays. Oh yes, one other thing is clear: Wouldn't you like to see her get healthy and be paired with Sorenstam in the final group of a tournament somewhere down the road? In fact, one thing Wie has managed to do over the past week is create a tour full of rivals. Bring on Act 2.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.
Michelle Wie didn't hit her driver on Thursday, thanks to a bum wrist. But she pulled herself together to remain in the hunt at the LPGA Championship.