Wie advances in local U.S. Open qualifier

Updated: May 16, 2006, 8:40 AM ET
Associated Press

KAHUKU, Hawaii -- Michelle Wie has been competing against men since she was 12, and still feels slightly uneasy about it.

One-Way Street
There's only one way to slice it -- qualifying for the U.S. Open is no easy feat. Consider:

Local qualifying: Eighteen-hole rounds will be held at more than 100 sites in mid-May. From the more than 7,000 golfers making the attempt at local qualifying, about 550 will advance to sectional qualifying, joining roughly 200 who are exempt from the local qualifying stage.

Sectional qualifying: Thirty-six-hole rounds will be held at 16 sites from late May through June 6. For the second time, sectional qualifiers will be held in Japan and England. Golfers advancing from sectional qualifying will join the 70 players who are fully exempt into the Open field.

In 2005, Michael Campbell was the first non-exempt U.S. Open winner since Steve Jones in 1996. Campbell qualified at the England site by making a birdie on the last hole (nine spots were awarded to the England site. In fact, Campbell said he would not have entered if he had to travel to the United States to compete in the qualifying process.

But Wie looked totally comfortable Monday when she moved a step closer in her long-shot bid to become the first female player to qualify for the U.S. Open, shooting an even-par 72 to win a local qualifier.

"Awesome,'' she said after a USGA official told her the results were official.

"Playing with the men, I'm not sure what's going to happen. It puts me in an almost uncomfortable place," she said. "That's what makes me a better player."

The USGA believes she is the first woman to get through local qualifying for the U.S. Open. Wie and two other players advanced to sectional play next month, with Wie saying she will play in the June 5 36-hole sectional at Canoe Brook in Summit, N.J.

"The possibility of playing at Winged Foot? It's the U.S. Open, the name speaks for itself," Wie said. "It's one of a kind."

After the sectional, Wie will play in the LPGA Championship in Havre de Grace, Md.

Playing on her home island of Oahu in front of about two dozen people, Wie was steady for most of her round on the breezy, oceanside Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort, but missed a couple of short putts. She had four birdies and four bogeys.

Joe Phengsavath of Honolulu was second with a 1-over 73. Fifteen-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, a high school freshman from Honolulu, holed a 60-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to earn the third spot.

Wie opened with a birdie, sinking a 15-foot putt, but three-putted the 543-yard third to give back a stroke. She then birdied Nos. 7, 9 and 14, but followed each of them up with a bogey.

"I made the birdies where I should have," she said. "I made a lot of stupid mistakes, though."

Wie made the turn at 1-under 35 after holing a 20-foot, slightly downhill putt that hung on the lip and dropped. Her father jumped, shot his fist in the air and screamed, "Yes! Whoo!" as the small gallery cheered.

On par-4 14th, Wie drove 290 yards, easily clearing the right-side marsh and then stuck her approach shot for a tap-in birdie. On the next hole, she hit a line drive off the tee into the short bunker. She blasted out of the sand to 3-feet, but missed for bogey.

She saved par on par-4 No. 17 with a spectacular second shot out of the woods, using a 9-iron.

"It was tricky because the hill was pretty high and the tree was pretty low," Wie said. "It's not like I can bounce it up the hill because there's roots everywhere."

She then stuck her approach 5-feet from the cup.

"I really grinded when I needed to," Wie said.

Wie has had previous success at Turtle Bay. She finished second in the LPGA Tour's SBS Open last year. She failed to advance with a 4-over 76 in the U.S. Open qualifier last year.

Wie said her play was a present to her mother, Bo, who celebrated her birthday Monday.

But it was the 16-year-old star who was receiving gifts. Wie received another exemption to the U.S. Women's Open on Monday and also accepted her first exemption to a European tour men's event, the Omega European Masters Sept. 7-10 in Switzerland.

The European invitation gives Wie a global schedule of 14 tournaments against men and women.

"Me and my dad were kind of joking that we're basically playing on all tours this year," she said. "I played the Japan Tour, Korean Tour, LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, Asian Tour and now the European Tour. I think it's awesome. It's always what I wanted to do."

She also said playing in both the men's and women's U.S. Open would be "remarkable."

USGA women's tournament chairman Marcia Luigs said the exemptions are given to players who would be eligible to play in a tournament if not for some external reason.

"If she had been on the LPGA Tour, she would have been exempt," Luigs said. "Even though she is a professional and has won enough money to have an exemption, it's not on the LPGA money list."

Although Wie is not an LPGA Tour member, she would have ranked 12th on the official money list last year and would be within the top 35 in 2006 -- and eligible for the tournament at the Newport Country Club -- after just two events this year.

But it's the men she enjoys playing against because it motivates her to work out and prepare for the longer courses.

"Playing with the men, I get to learn so much more and when I do actually make the cut and do well, it feels really good," she said.

Wie has competed eight times against the men on five tours, making the cut for the first time May 5 in the SK Telecom Open in South Korea.

She wasn't the only female in the field of 40 on Monday, however. Fifteen-year-old Carmen Bandea of Atlanta shot an 80.

For Wie, it's back to Punahou School where she closes out her memorable junior year, where she turned pro, finished third in the Fields Open and tied for third in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, both times missing a playoff by one shot.

"Now I'm going to back to school. I'm back down to earth," she said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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