Wie advances in quest to make men's U.S. Open

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

KAHUKU, Hawaii -- Michelle Wie wanted to do something special for her mother's birthday. Mission accomplished.

Wie moved a step closer in her long-shot bid to become the first female player to qualify for the U.S. Open, shooting an even-par 72 on Monday to win a local qualifier.

"Awesome," she said after a USGA official told her the results were official.

The USGA believes she is the first woman to get through local qualifying for the U.S. Open. Wie and two other players advanced to sectional play next month, with Wie saying she will play in the June 5 36-hole sectional at Canoe Brook in Summit, N.J.

"The possibility of playing at Winged Foot? It's just the U.S. Open, the name speaks for itself," Wie said. "It's one of a kind."

She said her play was dedicated to her mother, Bo, who celebrated her birthday Monday.

But it was the 16-year-old star who was receiving gifts. Wie received another exemption to the U.S. Women's Open on Monday and also accepted her first exemption to a European tour men's event.

"Playing in two U.S. Opens, the men's and the women's, I think that's remarkable," she said.

Playing on her home island of Oahu in front of about two dozen people, Wie was steady for most of her round on the breezy, oceanside Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort, but missed a couple of short putts. She had four birdies and four bogeys.

Joe Phengsavath of Honolulu was second with a 1-over 73. Fifteen-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, a high school freshman from Honolulu, holed a 60-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to earn the third spot.

Wie has had previous success at Turtle Bay. She finished second in the LPGA Tour's SBS Open last year.

"It's huge," she said. "I'm just hoping to get through this and I'm going to practice my butt off for the summer."

Last year, Wie failed to advance with a 4-over 76 in the qualifier. She finished in a three-way tie for sixth and was declared the second alternate.

Wie was playing in a group with University of Hawaii player Ryan Perez and pro Norman-Ganin Asao and was behind her first golf instructor, Casey Nakama, who shot an 81.

Wie was one of two female players in the field Monday. Fifteen-year-old Carmen Bandea of Atlanta shot an 80.

The field of 40 had a difficult time with the tricky wind with just 15 players shooting in the 70s and no one breaking par. With no electronic leaderboards on the course, Wie said she had no idea where she stood.

"It's so hard in an 18-hole deal. You never really know. You can't go back to the hole and redeem yourself," she said. "I just tried to play smart today."

She played in front of her smallest crowd in years. Of the two dozen that followed her, about half were members of the media.

It was a drastic scenery change from the SK Telecom in South Korea earlier this month where she had five bodyguards and thousands of spectators following her as she made the cut in a professional men's tournament for the first time in eight attempts.

"It's like I'm back down to earth now," she said.

For Wie, it's back to Punahou School where she closes out her memorable junior year, where she turned pro, finished third in the Fields Open and tied for third in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, both times missing a playoff by one shot. She has earned $181,449, which would place her 16th on the LPGA Tour's money list.

"I have finals, papers. I'm kind of overwhelmed with school right now," she said. "But summer is very close."

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