Sunday, March 30, 2003
Michelle Wie shouted for her ball to "get into the hole" as she watched her near ace on the par-3 fifth hole yesterday.
Meunier-LeboucRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) - At the age of 13, Annika Sorenstam was a 45-handicapper in Sweden. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc was just being introduced to the strange game of golf in France.
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Writer
Neither could imagine spending their spring break the way Michelle Wie is - playing with them Sunday in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco.
"I cannot relate at all," Sorenstam said. "She's playing at a totally different level than I did at that age."
The long-hitting Wie gave fans a glimpse of the future of women's golf Saturday, overpowering the Dinah Shore tournament course to shoot a 6-under 66 and join Sorenstam and Meunier-Lebouc in the final group of the first major championship of the year.
The eighth-grader wasn't all that happy with the result after two short missed putts on the back nine.
"It's killing me right now," she said. "I could have been second by now."
Meunier-Lebouc shot a 2-under 70 to take a three-stroke lead over Sorenstam and four over Wie.
But while a French player leading a major championship would be big news any other time, it was overshadowed by the play of Wie, who had the crowds gasping in disbelief at the length of her drives.
A 13-year-old named Aree Song was in the final group here three years ago and finished 10th, but she didn't hit the ball the distances Wie does.
"My drives kept going father and farther each hole," Wie said. "On 16 I just flew it over the trees. It was about 310."
A day earlier, Wie became the youngest player to ever make a cut in an LPGA major championship. She didn't take long to challenge for the lead, making six birdies in the first 11 holes and pars the rest of the way in.
Her gallery grew along the way, as word spread of the 13-year-old who hits the ball past everyone.
"I didn't even know what I was shooting," Wie said. "I just felt like I had to make one more birdie."
Sorenstam, meanwhile, had putting problems and finished with a 71 in her bid to win the Kraft Nabisco a third straight time.
Sorenstam is a master at playing her own game and keeping her focus. She will need all of it to play with a 13-year-old who will likely be hitting her drives 30 to 40 yards past her.
Meunier-Lebouc, who began the day with a two shot lead, led by as many as five shots on the back nine before bogeys on 16 and 17 brought her back closer to the field.
She missed an 8-footer for birdie on 18 to finish with a 2-under 70 that left her at 8 under on a course she hadn't seen before this week.
"I'm very happy and at the same time scared," Meunier-Lebouc said. "That's the best, actually. That's why I'm here."
Meunier-Lebouc, who has won five times on the European tour and once last year on the LPGA Tour, has experience playing with Sorenstam in the final group. She was with her last week in Phoenix, where they tied for third.
She's seen Sorenstam up close enough while playing her last five rounds with her to know what she's capable of. She also knows she is playing the golf of her life.
"I think it's going to be the best experience of my life," Meunier-Lebouc said. "It keeps getting better every day."
Rookie Lorena Ochoa had threatened to make it in the final group, getting to 7-under after a front-nine 32. But she had problems on the back nine, hitting it behind a tree on 11, and into the water on 14 for a back-nine 42 that left her seven shots back.
Wie's prodigious length and her calm demeanor not only won over the galleries, but seemed intimidating to some of her fellow players.
That showed on the 12th hole, a 385-yard par-4 where Wie hit a 3-wood long down the fairway. Leta Lindley, who was playing with Wie, pulled out her driver, hit it short into the right rough and ended up making a triple bogey seven.
Michelle Wie shot a 66 yesterday at the KraftNabisco and is in third place.
"It was very unnerving for the two girls playing with her after a while," said Wie's swing coach, Gary Gilchrest.
All week long, Wie has been hitting 300-yard drives, reducing the 6,510-yard Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club into a pitch-and-putt course.
The 6-foot-tall Wie stood waiting patiently all day Friday for her playing partners to hit their shots from 50 to 100 yards behind her. Almost every second shot on the par-4s was hit with a wedge, and she had irons into many of the par-5s.
"I think I hit maybe two soft 9-irons all week," she said.
Wie's biggest problems came with her father, B.J. Wie, a university professor who caddies for his daughter. On the 18th hole she hit a long drive and had about 225 to a green surrounded by water and he wondered if she was going to go for it.
"I told him, 'Don't even put that thought in your mind," Wie said, laughing.
Wie said she also had to calm her father down throughout the round.
"Every five minutes, it's like, chill please," she said.
Divots: Wie's 66 tied the low round by an amateur in an LPGA major set by Carol Semple-Thompson in the 1994 U.S. Women's Open and Caroline Keggi in the 1988 Nabisco Dinah Shore. ... Wie said she will have to cut back her schedule next year because she will be in high school taking honors courses in geometry, biology and Chinese.
Ladies Professional Golf Association
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