U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Michelle Wie lowered the bill of her cap after a poor bunker shot on No. 9 during yesterday's final round of the U.S. Women's Open.
Wie close again
She continues to play steady, but does not come up with the big shots to turn the tide
NEWPORT, R.I. » A brazen seagull parked itself right in the middle of the 10th fairway at Newport Country Club yesterday afternoon. It just stayed there for a good 15 seconds, as photographers hustled over to take its picture.
The gull finally took off when Michelle Wie, striding toward her ball, stepped to within a few feet.
It summed up Wie's relationship with birdies yesterday. She got close to a lot, but almost all of them flew away.
Wie posted a parade of pars yesterday, 28 in all as rounds three and four were both played on the same day.
The adage in the U.S. Women's Open is par is a good score. But for the 16-year-old prodigy, playing close to even (2-over 73 in the fourth round) wasn't good enough to win.
Pat Hurst and Annika Sorenstam came up with clutch birdies late. That's why they're playing off for the championship today and Wie is on her way to New Jersey and the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship after tying for third with Stacy Prammanasudh and Se Ri Pak.
The share of third place earned Wie $156,038 and a free pass into next year's Women's Open. (The USGA brought her in with an exemption this year).
Wie was deadlocked for the lead with Sorenstam and Brittany Lincicome at even par after the third round, in which Wie shot a fairly steady 71 with two birdies and two bogeys.
After a short break between rounds, Lincicome quickly fell away and Wie strayed with two bogeys on the front nine. But nobody had made a move into the red numbers and, when Wie birdied No. 12 with a very nice 15-footer to reward a pin-high approach shot, she was tied for first with Hurst and Sorenstam.
Wie had to blast her ball out of a bunch of weeds at the top of a fairway bunker on the next hole.
"That thing was so steep it was like hitting into a wall," she said.
Her ball trickled out about 5 feet, and her 7-iron then cleared the green and went into a cavernous trap.
She appeared to still be in the hunt, though, when she managed to bogey with a pretty out and went to 2-over.
But it was getting crowded near the top.
Juli Inkster, Hurst, Prammanasudh and Pak all clustered around par along with Wie and Sorenstam. When Wie parred No. 14, Sorenstam and Hurst were tied at 1 over with the other four all at 2 over. A playoff appeared inevitable, the only question being which players would be involved.
Wie would close with a string of five pars, but with that many good players within a stroke of each other, par wasn't going to hack it, regardless of how tough the closing holes.
Wie struck some beautiful long putts to tap-in distance -- but always for par, not birdie. She was playing textbook golf when something special was needed for the win.
By the time her all-or-nothing chip for birdie on 18 stopped way left of the cup, even holing that would've been too little, too late; Hurst and Sorenstam were both two strokes ahead and headed up the same fairway.
Wie's fourth-round putting -- 27 strokes -- was her best statistically in the tournament. That was because she never 3-putted.
"There's been a lot of talk about 'she can't putt,' that kind of stuff. And I really feel like I showed this week that I can really putt because I made putts when I needed to," she said.
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If she'd made the 15-footer at 16 instead of leaving 3 feet for par, and then holed the 60-footer at the 17th instead of missing by 10 inches, Wie might've been still playing for her first pro victory today.
If anything, Wie has developed consistency. It's hard to believe she's the same player who blew up in the fourth round of the Open last year, going from a share of the lead to 23rd with an 82. This time she went from a co-leader to third place -- a marked improvement from 2005.
These days, Wie is almost always a factor on Sunday, especially in LPGA majors. While it gives Wie's critics "doesn't know how to win" ammo, it draws respect from veteran pros. Hurst said it will eventually put her in the winner's circle.
"She's played well in every tournament," Hurst said. "It seems like she's always up there. It's just a matter of time if she keeps getting herself in that position. It's going to happen."
Wie -- who shared a smile with caddie Greg Johnston after a look at the leaderboard confirmed her fate -- is far from frustrated.
"Obviously playing a shot or two better would get me there," she said. "But I feel like I'm playing very solid right now. I'm playing as hard as I can, and it's going to happen. ... You can't really predict. ... I feel like I have to keep on grinding, keep on playing and it will happen."
Note: In Wie's past six majors -- beginning with last year's LPGA Championship, where she finished second -- she has tied for 23rd (last year's Open); tied for third (last year's Women's British Open and this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship); tied for fifth (this year's LPGA Championship) and tied for third yesterday, two strokes out of the playoff.