The first time the Evian was on the LPGA schedule Annika Sorenstam, the best player of her generation, was appropriately the winner. Paula Creamer won here in her rookie year of 2005; Natalie Gulbis's only LPGA victory was at Evian in 2007 and Ai Miyazato made the Evian Masters her first LPGA Tour victory in 2009. And then there is the time Michelle Wie almost won here -- almost, the word that haunts her career.
Perhaps the most curious story to emerge from this mountainside course is the interesting role it has played in the career of Wie. It was here five years ago that the can't-miss-kid began her transformation into an enigma that has many wondering if the full potential of her enormous talent will ever be realized. There was nothing in her four-over-par 76 on Thursday to ease that concern.
Wie turned pro in October 2005 and was 16 years old when she came into the 2006 Evian Masters on an upward arc that screamed of greatness. She had played five LPGA tournaments on the year and finished no worse than fifth, where she was at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, followed by impressive third-place efforts at both the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open.
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Whether coincidental or directly related, Wie did not break par again in an LPGA event for a year - until the second round of the 2007 Evian. While first injuries and then attending Stanford University are certainly mitigating circumstances, Wie's record before and after the 2006 Evian Masters is worth noting.
Before the '06 Evian, Wie had played in 11 LPGA majors, finishing in the top-five six times, the top-20 nine times and never missing a cut. Wie has played 14 majors since the '06 Evian with only one top-10 (sixth at this year's Kraft Nabisco), three missed cuts, four finishes outside the top 50, a withdrawal and, until a T-55 finish this year at the Broadmoor, had not made the cut in the U.S. Women's Open since 2006 -- before the Evian.
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Certainly, at such a young age -- Wie turns 22 in October -- it is way too early to make any sweeping assessments of her career. We will just have to wait and see. It's just that having played her first LPGA tournament in 2002 at the age of 12, Wie has been on the world's stage for so long and the expectations had been set so high -- by both the Wie camp and the media -- that more than nine years later, it feels like two career LPGA victories is underachieving.
Perhaps the worse thing that happened to Wie was missing the cut by just one stroke at the Sony Open on the PGA Tour in 2004 at the age of 14. That created the false impression she was close to being competitive with PGA Tour professionals when, in fact, she made a mile of putts that week on what was essentially her home course. That perspective was lost at the time in the rush to proclaim her the next great thing.
Wie has had several recurring problems. One is performing under pressure, which Sorenstam referred to at the Broadmoor when she said she has questions as to whether Wie was mentally tough enough to be a dominant player. That could stem from the fact Wie had so little competitive experience in junior golf compared to her contemporaries, like Yani Tseng, opting instead to play against the pros. And that might change as she gets more experience.
Another problem is driving the ball. She is No. 147 on tour in fairways hit this year. But the greatest concern has to be the putter. Wie needed a shocking 139 putts (34.7 per round) to get around The Broadmoor and came into the Evian using a long putter for the first time, opting for a split grip with the left hand anchoring the club high.
But on the relatively benign greens at Evian GC, Wie needed 32 putts in Thursday's first round. While it is unlikely she will ever become a great putter -- those tend to be born and not made -- she could become a good one. Sorenstam, through hard work and mental toughness, overcame shaky short putting early in her career to become solid on the greens.
Some say Wie will play better when she graduates from Stanford next spring. But, except for her passionate performance at the 2009 Solheim Cup, every indication is that she enjoys college life more than life on tour. Will she be liberated to play better golf after school is out, or will she miss that life?
Wie is one of the most interesting stories in golf. The LPGA could use her to become a dominant player, not just a one-win-a-year top-10 player. Her face still adorns the fitness trailer at tournaments each week despite the fact others -- Tseng, Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Jiyai Shin -- have accomplished far more.
No one knows what the next pages of the plot will bring for Wie. The raw talent that is there may eventually win out. Like with the Tiger Woods saga, we watch and wait. But whatever happens next, the most curious turn in the baffling career of Wie took place here at the Evian Masters in 2006. It was a major moment.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo by Getty Images)