On an island all her own

Updated: January 16, 2004, 4:07 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN The Magazine

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The Mercedes Championship has everything you'd put on your tournament wish list: A 30-player field of the game's elite, those famed Kona winds that drop the temperature all the way to 80 degrees and vistas so spectacular that the nearby humpback whales don't know whether to swim or slap their tails in applause.

Michelle Wie
AP PhotoMichelle Wie jumped at the chance to play in her hometown Sony Open.

So why, then, even after Stuart Appleby's deceivingly impressive one-shot victory here Sunday, is there equal or more buzz about a tournament yet to be played, by a player who doesn't own a high school diploma much less a PGA Tour card?

Two words: Michelle Wie.

The Tour now island hops from Maui to Oahu, from the Mercedes to the Sony Open, and waiting there is Wie, who makes her PGA Tour debut thanks to a sponsor's exemption. Vijay Singh has grudges older than the 14-year-old Wie, but that won't stop her from trying to make the cut -- and history.

"I've been looking forward to it really long, and it would be really sad if I messed up," said Wie, who has spent more than three months practicing for the Sony. "I think I'll do good."

"Good" is a relative term. Break 80? Make it to Saturday? Brush past Sergio Garcia?

"I think it's what I'm satisfied with," she said. "I really want to make the cut ... I think I can."

If Wie wants a lesson on how to make it under the line -- and much more -- she ought to watch the video of Appleby's four rounds (66-67-66-71--270) at the drop-dead-gorgeous Plantation Course. Appleby handled the pressure, the fickle Bermudagrass greens (everything breaks toward Molokai, except when it goes the other way), and those 12-24 mph Kona winds that snapped pants legs and tempers all day.

The victory is the fifth of Appleby's PGA Tour career and the $1.06 million check the largest he's ever cashed. Truth is, Appleby probably could have endorsed it midway through the back nine, though Singh did make him squirm down the stretch.

"I did realize Vijay was never going away," said Appleby, who had the luxury of playing low-risk golf during the final few holes.

What he didn't have to worry about was a Sunday charge from Tiger Woods, who started seven strokes behind Appleby and finished seven shots out of first. Woods spent considerable portions of the afternoon looking as if he'd eaten a bad piece of sushi. Missed putts -- a week-long issue for the world's No. 1 player -- contributed to the series of pained looks and a 2-under 71 round.

Of course, the week wasn't a total waste. Woods went over the $40 million career-earnings mark with his fourth-place tie. Now he goes into hibernation.

"I'm off," he said. "You won't see me for a while."

As for your 2003 Mercedes champion, well, Ernie Els wasn't within a 2-iron of the leaderboard once the tournament cleared its throat. That left Singh, last season's leading money winner, to do much of the heavy lifting.

Singh tried. He trailed by only two shots at day's beginning, fell behind by six at the turn, and then birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to shrink the lead to two again. Appleby suddenly had to worry about sweat stains on that nice blue shirt of his.

"There was definitely a momentum change, but I really felt like it was up to Vijay to catch me," Appleby said.

Singh had a chance to pull within a single stroke on 17, but he missed about an 8-foot putt for birdie. He birdied the final hole, but only after shaking Appleby's hand following the Aussie's tap-in for par.

"I'm not disappointed in finishing second," said Singh. "I'm disappointed in not winning."

Now on to Honolulu and the par-70 Waialae Country Club, where Els is also the defending title-holder. Els and Wie are supposed to play a practice round together and it's a no-brainer that the crowds will be a bit bigger than the ones that followed her during the Mercedes pro-am.

This isn't exactly Annika II, but it's in the subdivision. Sorenstam, who played in the 2003 Bank of America Colonial, is the preeminent player on the LPGA Tour. Wie owns a U.S. Women's Public Links title, a swing straight out of an instructional video and a retainer for her bottom teeth. But there is no comparing their respective bodies of work. Sorenstam is present. Wie is potential.

"Are you ready for (the Sony)?" Sorenstam asked Wie at last week's pro-am.

"I hope so," Wie said.

Wie's low score at Waialae is 65, her high is 76. The cut there a year ago was even-par 140, which means Wie needs to split the difference -- and then some -- if she expects to stick around the for the weekend.

This isn't her first time in a men's event. She played in a Nationwide and a Canadian Tour event and missed the cut both times. But Wie says her short game is better, as is her course management. Answers arrive Thursday.

"There was a poll that 70 percent of the people think I'm going to miss the cut," she said. "So if I miss the cut no one's going to be sad, I don't think. Only me, though."

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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