Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Defending champion Michelle Wie watched her drive on the opening hole yesterday. Wie tapped in for birdie on the finishing hole and carded a 70.

Kono tied for
first-round lead

Punahou School is well represented
at the tournament as Stephanie Kono
shoots 69 and Michelle Wie 70

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. >> Teen sensation Michelle Wie had challenges and challengers aplenty yesterday as the youngest defending champion in the history of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

And in the end, she wasn't even the best player from her school to tame the hills, heat and humidity at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club's Green Course. That honor went to Stephanie Kono, a year behind Wie at Punahou School and a shot ahead of her after a 3-under-par 69.

But Wie, a semifinals loser two years ago before becoming the youngest winner last year, is still the player to beat in the USGA event.

She overcame a four-putt double bogey on the par-5 fifth and a pairing with an alternate, who shot a 17-over 89, by posting five birdies and just one other bogey in the first of two rounds of stroke-play qualifying.

Wie finished with a tap-in birdie on the 466-yard, par-5 18th, hitting her second 3-wood within 7 feet and barely missing the eagle putt.

"I'm still happy the way I shot, the way that I finished," she said.

Kono, 14 and going into ninth grade, and Carling Cho of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 19, both had late 69s on the 6,159-yard layout, while Wie was joined by seven others -- six of them teenagers -- at 70.

Kono did all her scoring after making the turn at 1 over, getting two birdies, a par and two more birdies to begin the back nine. The first two came on putts of 20 and 28 feet, the last two on rolls of 7 and 12 feet.

"Some of my putts on the front were really close," she said. "We were just misreading it a little bit and they were getting pretty close."

Cho, a rising junior at Cal-Irvine, was 4 under through 16 holes, made a double bogey on the par-3 17th and a 30-footer for birdie on the 18th.

"I wanted to finish strong after that double," she said, recalling her first PubLinx last year when a bad first round made it difficult.

"I wanted to try and shoot a good number, take the pressure off me, and I think I did that," she said. "Play one shot at a time was my goal."

The logjam at 70 also included Jane Park, 17, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Brittany Lang, 18, of McKinney, Texas, both teammates of Wie on the U.S. team that won the Curtis Cup earlier this month.

Also at 70 were 15-year-old Ya-Ni Tseng of Taiwan, 16-year-old Jooyoung Yang of Korea, 19-year-olds Hoi Ning Eva Yoe of China and Hwanhee Lee of Los Angeles, and 20-year-old Courtney Mahon of Topeka, Kan.

For Wie, poise was the word of the day.

Wie's four-putt came after her second shot left her about 45 yards on the 498-yard fifth. Her third wound up on the fringe, about 36 feet from the hole, and her approach from there stopped 5 feet from the hole.

It was a straight putt, but her aggressive roll hit the edge of the cup and ran 5 feet by, and she two-putted from there for a seven.

"It was a little bit good for me," she said of the seven, which she followed with a birdie on the next hole to get back to even par.

"It made me kind of angry, wanting to make more birdies."

She had two more on the back, both on par 5s, and one bogey.

"I always feel comfortable on par 5s," she said. "I feel comfortable and I feel like that's the holes where I can make my moves."

Wie and Jordyn Wells of Bethel Park, Pa., the third player in her group, likely suffered as Kristan Bennett's struggles removed any hope of a rhythm being established. Wie had no such complaints afterward.

"It wasn't really her fault," she said of Bennett, of Trenton, Mich., and the third alternate to make it into the field. "She wasn't having a really good day and I sympathize with her. We all have those days."

Wells, who shot 77, was duly impressed by Wie's poise, and game.

"She could be a lot cockier for how good she is," Wells said.

The field will be cut to 64 players after today's stroke-play round before the tournament moves into match play, culminating in a 36-hole championship on Sunday.


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