At long last, 20-year-old Michelle Wie gets elusive first LPGA Tour victory

Sunday, November 15, 2009

At long last, Michelle Wie gets 1st LPGA Tour win

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Michelle Wie, LPGA Tour champion.

Imagine that.

Wie ended her long wait by tapping in a birdie putt Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and her first tour title may finally quiet the skeptics who second-guessed her career decisions and questioned the fuss over a player without a pro victory.

“Never thought this would feel THIS great!!!!” Wie posted on her Twitter account.

The 20-year-old closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-stroke victory over Paula Creamer. Wie finished it off in style, hitting a greenside bunker shot within a foot on the final hole.

When it was over, it was time for a celebration that was a decade in the making. Wie pulled the ball from the 18th hole, looked up to the sky, let out a big sigh of relief, bounced up and down and pumped her right fist.

After all the near misses, after all the expectations, she was a winner.

“It’s definitely off my back,” Wie said. “I think that hopefully life will be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do.”

Solheim Cup teammates Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lincicome showered Wie on the 18th green.

“Just seeing them come out and pour beer all over me, it was a great feeling,” Wie said. “I’ve always seen it on TV and I’ve always wanted people to pour beer on me. It was as great as I thought it was.”

Her parents, dad B.J. and mom Bo, were there, too, for an embrace.

“I think it’s just so awesome, seeing them on the 18th green and hugging them,” Wie said. “You know, we have been through a lot as a family, and it’s just so great that they are here to share my highs and to keep me up from the lows, as well.”

Wie earned $220,000 to push her season winnings just over $900,000. The win came in her 65th LPGA Tour event — she had finished second six times.

Wie won the 2003 USGA Women’s Amateur Public Links, the Stanford student’s only significant victory until Sunday.

“Right now it feels fantastic,” Wie said. “It’s a great year. I went through some ups and downs … And obviously this tournament is the icing on the cake.”

Pressel (67), Jiyai Shin (71) and Cristie Kerr (72) were three back. Wie finished at 13-under 275 after starting the day at the Guadalajara Country Club tied for the lead with Kerr at 10 under.

“Congrats to michelle!!” Pressel tweeted.

Wie first qualified for a USGA event at age 10 and played an LPGA event when she was 12. She joined the LPGA this season and has begun to show the sizzling game that has made her arguably the biggest attraction in women’s golf.

Dressed head to toe in red, Wie had a few shaky moments but she was steadier down the stretch as her rivals faltered. In the past, it’s often been the Hawaiian who has stumbled.

The 6-foot Wie stood tall despite a nagging sprained left ankle that forced her to wear a large, black brace that extends 6 inches above her shoe top.

She had chances to pull away on the front nine, but couldn’t quite do it and finished with a 2-under 34 at the turn — 12 under for the tournament. She went to 13 under with a birdie on 11, giving her a one-shot lead over Creamer and Kerr. Wie bogeyed the next hole when her escape shot from under a cluster of trees squarely hit a trunk, the ball rebounding into the fairway behind her.

But she made par through 17.

Creamer drew even with Wie with an eagle on 10. But two bogeys down the stretch ruined her chances of victory.

“I gave it a chance, and Michelle played great,” said Creamer, who has battled stomach problems for a year and fought off back and thumb injuries. She is winless this year after eight career victories.

“I feel a lot better with my golf,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate that you’re so close, yet you’re so far away.”

The co-leader with Wie after three rounds, Kerr played even on the front nine before reaching 12 under with birdies on 10 and 11. After 12 holes, Wie, Creamer and Kerr were tied, but Kerr faded with bogeys on 15 and 16.

Shin, the rookie of the year, also slipped. Tournament host Ochoa shot 69 to finish six back and Ai Miyazato, No. 2 on the money list behind Shin, was 10 back after a 72.

Ochoa and Shin will battle next week for the player of the year award at the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in Houston. Nancy Lopez is the only player to win both the rookie and player awards in the same season, accomplishing the feat in 1978.

The LPGA, battered by economic problems and the forced resignation of its commissioner this summer, needed this as much as Wie.

“Literally, when Michelle Wie is atop the leaderboard it’s like night and day and that’s star power,” LPGA spokesman David Higdon said the day before Wie’s win.

Wie played PGA Tour events when she was 14 — the biggest stage there is. She was criticized at the time for not focusing on women’s events. She turned pro in 2005 before even finishing high school.

She ignored the criticism and, at 16, she was poised to become the first woman to qualify for the men’s U.S. Open before her putter failed her. Shortly after that she began to lose confidence and went into a long, painful slump that was made worse by a wrist injury that ruined her 2007 season.

She has slowly worked her way back, earning her LPGA card for this season, gaining credibility with players and emerging as a star at this year’s Solheim Cup, going undefeated in four matches.

“It just taught me so much about handling that situation,” Wie said. “And actually, I wore my Solheim shoes today. So I felt pretty lucky.”

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