Friday, May 7, 2004

[ GOLF ]

Punahou student Michelle Wie missed a birdie putt on the 18th green yesterday during the first round of the Michelob Ultra Open in Williamsburg, Va. Wie shot a 1-over 72.

Wie dominates off tees,
struggles on greens

The 14-year-old misses opportunities
and posts a 1-over 72

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. » Michelle Wie had few problems driving the ball yesterday. Putting was a different story.

The 14-year-old, playing in a tournament for the first time since she finished fourth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, routinely outdrove playing partners Clarissa Childs and Charlotta Sorenstam by a wide margin yesterday at the LPGA Tour's Michelob Ultra Open, but watched birdie putt after putt slide by in a 1-over 72.

Wie, a Punahou student, is playing under a sponsor's exemption.

"It wasn't a great round. It wasn't a terrible round. It was just an OK round, just kind of hacked your way through 18 holes," she said. "When I first started off today I didn't really feel any adrenaline like when I go into tournaments and I am in that tournament mode."

Fellow teen sensation Aree Song, 18, opened with a 73.

Soo-Yun Kang, a big winner on the women's tour in her native Korea, now is taking aim at LPGA success.

Kang shot a 6-under 65 yesterday, riding a pinpoint 60-degree wedge to a series of short birdies and grabbing a one-shot lead.

"After a few holes, I got a feeling," said Kang, who's won numerous times in Korea but didn't commit to the LPGA Tour until last season.

Kang had birdie putts of 18 inches, 2 feet, 3 1/2 feet and 6 inches, all after hitting her 60-degree wedge from in close. She also nearly holed a 7-iron on the par-3 fifth and made the 1-foot putt that remained.

Kang's late surge relegated Helen Alfredsson and Dorothy Delasin to second-best at 5-under 66.

Alfredsson was happy to be back on the upswing less than a year after she saw clear signs that it was time to walk away from golf for a while.

Twice, in different tournaments, she picked up her ball on the green without marking it. Then, at the U.S. Women's Open last July, she was already 20 shots off the lead when she was disqualified, too.

Alfredsson went home and was "playing wife," she said.

"When vacuum cleaning, which is like the biggest drag in the whole world, becomes more fun than golf, you need to take a break," she said.

The layoff lasted about 2 1/2 months, save for a few rounds in Europe, but she has returned with renewed focus, despite a slow start in her first five events this year.

She got on track yesterday with eight birdies and three bogeys in her 66. Delasin was more efficient with six birdies and one bogey.

Kim Saiki was two shots back, and a group of six was at 68.

Annika Sorenstam, the winner in two of four previous starts, was another shot back at 69, and defending champion Grace Park shot a 72.

Saiki had the best round almost no one saw. She played in the first group off the 10th hole at 7:15 a.m., about an hour before Wie got started on the first hole and drew a crowd of several hundred fans with her.

Saiki's round included six birdies -- three in a row beginning at the par-3 13th -- and two bogeys in perfect weather along the James River.


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