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Wie starting over on North Shore


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POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

It's hard to imagine a 19-year-old riding a cart path toward redemption, but Michelle Wie's return to the islands this week is certainly all that.

The marquee attraction at every level, Wie's half-life on the golf course is as well documented as anyone's this decade. Her every move, decision, success, failure, blunder, injury ... whatever, have been dissected and analyzed by any and all with an opinion.

Unfortunately for the Wie Team, handling a golf prodigy is a little more challenging than selecting the next piano recital. When you make bold moves and cash big paychecks, you'd best have all your golf clubs in the bag or pay the kind of consequences Wie has the last couple of years.

The Punahou School graduate finally did something right by earning her LPGA Tour card the old-fashioned way—at Q-school. She talked about starting over with a clean slate on that first Sunday in December. But that could prove as difficult as getting up and down from the bunker when considering where she began, what she did along the way and how she reacted when well-intentioned folk documented her missteps.

She'll try to put all those questions and answers behind her at this week's $1.2 million SBS Open at Turtle Bay, the first full-field event of the 2009 season for a talented field of women. As popular as Wie is locally, the level of competition in this 54-hole event at the Palmer Course is deep.

Six of the world's top 10 players are in the field, including No. 2 and 2008 McDonald's LPGA Championship winner Yani Tseng, No. 3 and 2007 SBS Open champ Paula Creamer, No. 4 Suzann Pettersen and No. 5 and 2008 British Open winner Ji-Yai Shin.

Conspicuous by her absence for a second straight year is No. 1 Lorena Ochoa. But instead of dwelling on that unintended slight, the LPGA prefers you focus on several players of tomorrow, including rookies Wie and Stacy Lewis.

This is a potentially great rookie class, with four of the five top finishers at Q-school playing this week. Lewis, who shot a final-round 66 at the Kapalua Classic on Maui last October, won the five-round tournament with an 18-under 342. Joining her this week are second-place Q-school finisher Amy Yang of South Korea, American Anna Grzebien, who was third, and two of the three who tied for fourth—Florida's Beth Bader and Shiho Oyama of Japan.

Also missing from the scene is defending champion Annika Sorenstam. She opted to step outside the ropes for a year or two to start a family with new husband Mike McGee. But there are plenty of recognizable faces, including Kapalua Classic winner Morgan Pressel, Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Se Ri Pak, 2007 U.S. Open winner Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis.

Whether this event goes the same way as the Fields Open remains to be seen. This is the final year of the contract, and given the uncertain status of the Turtle Bay Resort, it's no sure thing the LPGA season will continue to begin the year on the North Shore in 2010.