KRAFT NABISCO CHAMPIONSHIP
Michelle Wie opened the Kraft Nabisco Championship yesterday with a bogey-free 66. She had six birdies and 12 pars.
Wie starts fast
... but not as fast as Lorena Ochoa, whose record 62 leaves the Hawaii teen four strokes back in second place
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » As Michelle Wie prepared to hit her first drive in yesterday's opening round of the $1.8 million Kraft Nabisco Championship, a jet engine roared in the distance at the Palm Springs Airport.
It was a fitting backdrop as Wie blasted her first drive down the center of her own runway, touching down 4 hours later at the 18th green of the Mission Hills Country Club with a 6-under 66 tucked safely in her golf bag.
The bogey-free round left her four shots off the record pace set by first-round leader Lorena Ochoa at 10-under 62, but ahead of the remaining 96 golfers in the field, who must have wondered what golf course those two were playing.
Only nine golfers had rounds in the 60s, and that didn't include world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, who began her quest for her 10th major championship with a ho-hum 71 that left her miles away from Ochoa and Wie.
A respectable gallery of about 300 people met Wie at the first tee at 8:24 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. There were almost as many photographers there to shoot Wie as fellow sensation Ai Miyazato, who has her own entourage of Japanese media following wherever she roams.
On this day, the 5-foot-2 Miyazato spent most of her round about 50 yards behind the 6-foot Wie, who played a near-flawless 18 holes. Not only did she hit all 18 greens in regulation, but Wie's driver let her down only twice, as she found 16 fairways en route to one of the best rounds in her young career as a professional golfer.
Noted for slow starts and strong finishes, Wie had six birdies, 12 pars and no bogeys as she found herself one shot clear of Stacy Prammanasudh, whose 5-under 67 was the best round of the afternoon and good enough for third.
Not that Wie was around to see it. After coming into the interview room to discuss her picture-perfect performance on a chilly day in the desert, Wie had lunch, went to the driving range and putting green for a little practice, then headed home, before teeing it up this afternoon in search of her first win on the LPGA Tour.
Lorena Ochoa shot a 62 yesterday to lead the Kraft Nabisco Championship by four strokes after one round.
Of course, Wie isn't thinking about taking a traditional dive on Sunday in the Champions Lake that guards the 18th green just yet. She still has at least 54 holes of golf to navigate and will be hard-pressed to play any better than she did yesterday morning.
"I'm really glad I played well in the first round," Wie said. "Usually, I have a little bit of trouble starting off real well. My game was really solid today. Hopefully, I will get better and better every day."
After she parred the first hole, back-to-back birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 set the stage for Wie as she steadily moved up the leaderboard with one birdie on a par 5, four birdies on the par 4s and another birdie at the par-3 17th that moved her to 6 under for her round.
She hit a strapping drive at the par-5 finishing hole, but opted to lay up in front of the lake, rather than going for it from 220 yards out. In her first three tournaments here at the Dinah Shore golf course, the 18th has caused her a few problems. Instead of going for it on the first day, she played it safe, settling for a par.
"I didn't feel like I needed to go for it," Wie said. "Last year was last year (when she had problems at the finishing hole). I was a whole other person last year. I'm 16, not 15 anymore. I have my driver's license. I'm a junior. That's it, basically. That covers it. So hopefully I won't make the same mistakes I did last year. I'm just going to play smart."
That brought a smile to the face of legendary golf instructor David Leadbetter, who walked all 18 holes, answering reporters' questions about his protégé's progress most of the way. You can't win a golf tournament on the first day, but you can sure lose it. Leadbetter pointed out how much better the speed of Wie's putts was as the morning went along.
"It's very difficult to play a golf tournament as she did in Hawaii at the Fields Open, then come back five weeks later and try to play again at this level," Leadbetter explained. "It's tough to find any rhythm in your game when you have to do that. It's what makes what she's doing right now so remarkable. Imagine how well she will play when she takes up golf full-time."
The junior from Punahou plays imaginary games as she practices after school. She tries to simulate real-time conditions in practice and take that with her when imaginary golf becomes reality. It has worked well for her so far.
"I was thinking the Fields Open was just last week," Wie said. "I was just trying to carry on that same momentum that I had going at the Fields. And I think the tournament practice that I had back home helped me a lot. So I can use this day to push me forward even more.
"It's my fourth year here. Just because I'm a pro, just because I have a big bag now doesn't really make the tournament better or any worse. I'm always excited to come here. It's no different, even though this time I'm a pro."