<
>

Thompson opens 84 Lumber with 64; Wie 5 over

9/15/2006 - Golf Michelle Wie

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- The course was too long, the competition too good. Michelle Wie has an exceptional golf game for a 16-year-old, except when she's playing against the men.

Heavy overnight rain softened up the third-longest course on the PGA Tour and created ideal scoring conditions Thursday at the 84 Lumber Classic, but not for Wie. Her sixth attempt to try to do what no woman has done in 61 years by making the cut in a tour event looks to be unsuccessful, much like the other five.

Wie, playing in her third and last U.S. men's tournament this year, shot a 5-over 77 on a day there were numerous scores in the 60s on the expansive Mystic Rock course, and has almost no chance to make a cut that was at even par a year ago.

"I don't feel any extra pressure because I'm a girl out
there," said Wie, who turns 17 next month. "I had six or seven
putts that looked like they were going to go in the hole and
didn't. And that was really frustrating."

She was in a five-player tie for 125th, with the top 70 and ties
after the second round advancing to weekend play.

Nicholas Thompson, a 2005 qualifying school graduate who is 181st on the money list, took advantage of an early starting time on a course soaked by 1½ inches of overnight rain for an 8-under 64. It was the tournament's lowest round since Vijay Singh's opening-round 64 in 2004. Thompson hopes to follow Singh and 2005 champion Jason Gore by turning at least a share of the first-round lead into a title.

"Had it not rained and the scores had been this low, I would have been surprised," Thompson said. "Due to the rain, it softened up the greens" and allowed golfers to aggressively go for greens they knew would hold their approach shots.

Thompson, a former U.S. Walker Cup team member, had a two-shot lead over a crowded group of six at 66 that included Rory Sabbatini and Reno-Tahoe champion Will MacKenzie. Six more were at 67.

Sabbatini, a speedy player, was paired with Ben Crane for the first time since becoming so upset with Crane's overly deliberate play in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic that he intentionally played out of order to show his unhappiness. Crane had a 73.

Wie also played slowly, and not all that well. She got off to an encouraging start with three consecutive pars after starting at No. 10, potentially calming her nerves on a course the Hawaii high school student knows well. But her round began getting away when she missed a short par putt on the par-4 13th, starting a stretch of three consecutive bogeys that was aided by a drive she pulled into a gully far left of the fairway on the par-4 15th.

Playing in the last group of the day, she never had a chance
after that despite being repeatedly encouraged by a large gallery
that chanted her name on No. 17 and appeared to include most of the
spectators on the course.

Her best chance for the birdie she never got came on the par-4
No. 4, but she missed a 6-footer.

"I felt like from tee to green I played very well. My short
game and putting let me down a couple of times -- every time," Wie
said. "It doesn't feel like I played 5-over because I hit the ball
really good."

The Pete Dye-designed Mystic Rock course at the Nemacolin Woodlands resort stretches over 7,550 mountainous yards and probably wasn't the best choice for Wie to challenge the men again. She was befriended by tournament founder Joe Hardy several years ago and has visited the mountaintop resort numerous times, and was hoping that familiarity might help.

But she probably never visited some of the terrain she tread Thursday in western Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands, where even a slightly missed drive might create a second shot that finds the golfer staring directly into a hillside.

Several in the field predicted this would not be a good tournament for Wie, and suggested her game might be better served by pursuing as many chances as possible to win against other women. She is not eligible for full-time LPGA Tour membership until she is 18.

Wie's last six rounds against the men, not including an Asian Tour stop this year in which she made the cut against a field of unknowns, include two 79s, a 78 and two 77s. She finished last a week ago in the European Masters in Switzerland with a 79-78-155.

"But I feel a lot more confident and comfortable with my
game," she said. "I'm hitting my irons 10 yards longer than I did
last week. I think I could have easily shot under par today, but my
putts didn't go in and I feel they will go in tomorrow."

Among the nine in the field with scores higher than Wie was John Daly, the unofficial tournament host who had a 78.

David Toms and Scott Verplank had the best rounds of the five U.S. Ryder Cup team members tuning up for next week's event in Ireland, shooting 70s. Toms had a much more enjoyable opening round than a year ago, when he was rushed off the course on a stretcher and was admitted to a Pittsburgh hospital in critical condition with an irregular heartbeat.

He made a quick recovery after his pulse was steadied and returned to Nemacolin Woodlands within a day, but later needed a 5½-hour medical procedure to correct the problem.

"It's obviously much better than the last time," he said. "I've been looking forward to coming back here all year, just because of the hospitality I was shown last year in difficult times. I wanted to come back."