Clear the way: Michelle Wie makes her pro debut on the LPGA tour, proving she belongs
Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr, of Miami, walked off the 18th green together after finishing the first round of the Samsung World Championship at the Bighorn Golf Club.
PALM DESERT, Calif. » A mark of a solid professional golfer is breaking par, and that's what Michelle Wie did yesterday, her first day on the job.
Yes, Bighorn was an endangered species yesterday, with no length, grabby greens and nary a breeze; only one player shot over par. And yes, Wie left lots of birdies on the course with shaky mid-range putting.
But for the most part, the 16-year-old showed what most already knew -- that she has plenty enough game to play on the LPGA tour. Wie fashioned a 2-under 70 while playing bogey-free the first 13 holes. The round tied her for 12th among 20 of the best female golfers in the world after the first round of the Samsung World Championship.
Wie was tied for sixth after four birdies on the first 12 holes. But she faltered late with bogeys on 14 and 18.
"I think I did pretty well," said the Punahou School junior, who was followed by a large first-day crowd of several hundred fans. "I shot under par, so I'm happy with that. But I feel like I can play better. Hopefully, I will play better the next three days."
Wie was scheduled to tee off in today's second round at 5:30 a.m. Hawaii time. Her second-round playing partner is Heather Bowie, who shot even-par 72 yesterday.
The four-round, no-cut format is ideal for Wie's pro debut. She didn't have the extra pressure of trying to make a cut, and is guaranteed at least $10,624 if she finishes the tournament.
"I haven't really thought, 'Oh, I'm playing for money now, ooh, more pressure,' like that," Wie said.
Defending champion Annika Sorenstam got a good start at pocketing the $212,500 first-place check, shooting an 8-under 64.
Gloria Park and Cristie Kerr (Wie's playing partner yesterday) were a stroke back at 65.
Wie admitted to nervousness at the first tee.
"Once I got over the tee shot my heart was thumping," she said.
But after she split the fairway with a 3-wood, it was just another day -- actually, the first day -- at the office.
"Nothing's really that different," she said. "It was all the same, really fun."
Michelle Wie waved to the crowd yesterday after making birdie on the second hole as her caddie, Greg Johnston, watched during the LPGA Samsung Championship in Palm Desert, Calif.
It wasn't said in a blasé tone, but Wie has been here before. Last year, she finished in a 13th-place tie here, but did not receive prize money because she was an amateur.
Still, some things were different a week after Wie announced her professional status and sponsorship deals estimated in the $10 million range.
As an amateur, Wie wore clothes and used gear from various companies. Yesterday, though, she was under the Nike umbrella -- literally. A swoop-emblazoned parasol kept the sun at bay as she walked up the fairways. There was at least one reminder of her age: A pink teddy bear hung from her Sony-labeled golf bag.
After a routine par 4 at the first hole, Wie scored her first birdie by hitting a pitching wedge to within 2 feet of the second green.
She avoided serious trouble on the third hole when her drive went under a small bush in sand on the right behind trees. Wie elected to take a 1-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie, dropped the ball two club lengths away and punched it nicely down the fairway. She managed to shoot regulation on the 473-yard par 5.
"I could have played it left-handed, but it was the third hole, you know, my first day," she said. "I think it was the right choice."
Wie couldn't drop a 2 1/2-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 No. 6, one of several short- and medium-length misses with the flat stick.
"These greens are not easy to read. They are very tricky," she said. "It felt like my stroke was really good. I felt like I was rolling it really nicely. I guess I was a little bit off, just a little bit."
Wie's birdie on No. 7 featur
ed a chip shot to within 5 feet. She made a 20-foot putt to gain another stroke, on the 10th hole. Her second shot on the par-5 No. 12 left Wie with a 60-foot eagle try, and then a 2-footer for birdie, which she made.
She played relatively conservatively, using her 3-wood four times. But Wie still averaged 270 yards off the tee, second to Sophie Gustafson's 274.
After one of her four fairway misses for the day, Wie's second shot on the 354-yard par-4 14th was about 30 yards short of the green, and her ensuing chip went 12 feet past the hole. She two-putted for bogey.
On 18, also a short par 4 at 355 yards, Wie went from bunker to bunker on the way to a round-ending bogey.