December 2, 2008

Wie continues march to LPGA card with 65

Wie in total control of her game after second round

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Granted, the Champions Course at LPGA International on a calm day is not exactly Shinnecock Hills in a 30 MPH wind. Still the 65 posted by Michelle Wie on Thursday during the second round of LPGA Q school was about as effortless as domination can look.

Perhaps it is the format -- Wie needs only to finish in the top 20 to earn playing privileges for 2009 -- but, in a more frightening concept for her competition, it just might be the methodical way she played reflected a new maturity that threatens to make her an even more formidable opponent.

The swing key to Wie's round -- in fact the crucial insight into her strategy for the week -- can be found in how she played No. 5 on Thursday, her 14th hole of the day. Driving into the left rough on the par-5 and with only 220 yards to the green -- a number easily reachable by the powerful teenager -- she opted to lay up to 80 yards rather than go for the green and flirt with the water hazard on the right side.

The old Wie might have gone for it, and the old Wie might have made a 7. What Wie did after the lay-up was knock a wedge to three feet and drain the birdie putt to trigger a run of four consecutive birdies and a closing-nine 32. That, coupled with her 69 on the more difficult Legends Course on Wednesday put the 19-year-old Stanford student at 10 under par, tied for the lead when she finished with Shiho Oyama of Japan.

Wie, one of the longest hitters in women’s golf, seems to be evolving into the kind of strategic player who wins tournaments, something she hasn’t done since the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. What Wie turned in Thursday was something very Nick Faldo-like, and that may come as no surprise since her teacher, David Leadbetter, taught Faldo when he was the best player in the world.

One of Faldo's favorite expressions is wonderfully simple: "Golf is not about the quality of your good shots," he once told me, "it is about the quality of your bad shots." The key to scoring, according to Faldo, is to make your bad shots not that bad.

And Wie has been known to hit some spectacularly bad bad shots -- and post some rather large numbers, shooting 75 or higher 17 times the last two years. But that has not been the case this week in the 90-hole race for the 20 fully exempt LPGA cards for next year. She has been the model of control and course management.

On Wednesday, on the tighter Legends Course, Wie hit only four drivers. During the second round, with the yawning fairways of the Champions Course beckoning, she took out the big stick 12 times and the couple of times she missed the short grass it was only by a yard or two. It was almost as if she were biding her time waiting for something dramatic to happen.

That burst of excitement began after the thoughtful birdie on No. 5. She hit it to six feet on the next hole, and to eight feet on each of the two holes after that. All of the putts found the bottom of the cup. In fact, a four-foot par save on the first hole she played -- No. 10 -- was the closest she came to bogey all day. Her first 36 holes included 11 birdies and a lone three-putt bogey on Wednesday.

To show you how odd Wie's career has been -- at least her recent career -- the last time she shot 65 in competition it didn’t count. That was in the second round of the State Farm Classic in July, the event at which she was disqualified for not signing the card bearing that 65 before she left the scoring area.

What we have witnessed during a whacky nearly seven-year version of this story has been the rise and fall and perhaps rise again of Wie. The 65 she shot Thursday at Q school left the gallery that started at a couple dozen and grew to a few hundred hungering for more.

Most immediately, the next course will come during Friday’s third round as Q school builds toward its cut to the low 70 and ties after 72 holes. But the real meal everyone is now craving is a 2009 LPGA season in which Michelle is a tour member and plays a full competitive schedule. A big step in that direction was taken on Thursday.