December 5, 2008

Wie on verge of LPGA card

Lewis leads Q school at 15 under going into final day

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Pretty much all Michelle Wie is going to have to do Sunday at LPGA Q school is make sure she signs her scorecard. At 14 under par through 72 holes, she is about 10 strokes clear of the battle for the 20th and last tour card that will be awarded here. Only the absolutely unexpected could derail her.

But the unexpected is exactly what showed up at the State Farm Classic earlier this year when Wie shot a 65 in Friday’s second round -- backing up an opening round 67 -- then, after polishing off another 67 on Saturday, was told she had been disqualified because she left the scoring area Friday without signing for her 65.

It's a safe bet that nothing of that nature will happen here. Wie appears to be, by every possible measuring stick, a smarter player. Not only has she been swinging the club great all week -- smooth, rhythmic and apparently stress free -- but she has also thought her way around the course extremely well. She seems to have a game plan and is sticking to it. Of course, those are all informed guesses since Wie has chosen not to talk to anyone who carries a laptop for a living until after Sunday's final round.

Clearly, the plan was to attack the Champions Course, where she shot 68 on Saturday and 65 on Thursday, and to leave the driver in the bag and go at the more difficult Legends Course in a conservative manner. She posted rounds of 69 and 72 there. For the most part she has avoided trouble, and when she has stumbled she has recovered her balance immediately.

Golf is, however golf. It's an extremely fickle game in which mastery is always rented and never owned. Even the most talented who play the game -- and Wie is a teenager of enormous talent -- experience those inexplicable lapses in which mind and body cannot get on the same page and control of the golf ball becomes a mere rumor. More simply: anything can happen.

The wild card being thrown into the mix for Sunday's final round of the 90-hole torture test is that the benign weather conditions that have graced the event all week are going to take the day off. Forecasters say it will be colder and windier. But the players will also be playing the forgiving Champions layout with its generous fairways.

Winning Q school is not nearly as important as finishing in the top 20. While there is some benefit to finishing high up -- in filling out fields for next year spots will go to No. 1 in Q school then No. 81 on the 2008 money list, No. 2 in Q school then No. 82 on the money list and so on – pretty much anyone with a fully exempt card will get into 2009 tournaments.

That is going to make the dynamic of Sunday interesting. Wie will be in the final group, paired with Stacy Lewis, who shot a 67 on Saturday and is at 15 under, one stroke better than Wie, and Amy Yang, who is at 13 under after a masterful 67 on Saturday while paired with Wie, putting for birdie on every hole.

Wie made one bogey during the fourth round, driving into the hazard left of the eighth fairway. In fact, through 72 holes she has made only a handful of poor swings, three times hitting snap-hooks off the tee and miss-hitting a couple of approach shots.

What will be fascinating in Sunday's final round will be seeing if anyone tries to go out and win the tournament or if they are all satisfied to play defense and avoid the big numbers that could turn almost certain success into disaster.

The field was cut to low 70 and exactly that number were at two over or better. If the competition had ended today there were 20 players right on the number at five under par or better. That's where most of the action will be going on Sunday.

But there is pride in winning, and let's not forget that Wie hasn't won anywhere since the 2003 U.S. Women’s Public Links. In fact, she hasn't been in the last group on the final day of a tournament since the 2006 Evian Masters, when she finished second to Karrie Webb.

When all is said and done Sunday no one will be handed a trophy as the victor. Instead, 20 players will be handed LPGA Tour cards. They will all be winners. But deep down you know that all of those near the top are thinking how cool it would be to be known at the Q school medalist. We'll find out who that is tomorrow.