Move over Babe, Wie cuts it with the men

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The Independent Online

Michelle Wie became the first female in 61 years to make the cut in a senior men's tour event yesterday. It was her eighth time of trying, but the manner in which the 16-year-old joined Babe Zaharias in the record books merely reinforced the belief that her feats will soon be needing a chapter all of their very own.

For Wie did not simply justify her name in appearing in this morning's third round of the SK Telecom Open in Incheon, South Korea, and so emulate Zaharias' feat at the Los Angeles Open in 1945 - she justified it appearing high up on the leaderboard.

While the Hawaiian's previous attempts have seen some agonisingly close failures there was little chewing of painted fingernails yesterday at the Sky 72 Golf Course, just west of Seoul, as a 69 hauled her to five-under and left her with five shots to spare.

"I still can't believe I made the cut," said Wie, who only turned professional last October. "Now I just want to play well tomorrow."

Indeed, Wie was right to look forward and not back, just as she was right to count the names above her rather than under her. Only 14 players separate her from the leaders, Malaysia's Iain Steel and Thailand's Prom Meesawat, on 11-under. "I want to make it into the top 10 of the US Tour," she said, as a way of confirming her uniqueness.

Wie can certainly claim to be a one-off on the LPGA Tour now. Since the undisputed world No 1, Annika Sorenstam, became the first woman in 58 years to compete against the top men at the 2003 Colonial, the race has been on to make a cut, and although the validity of this success will be queried after occurring on the lesser Asian Tour, that in itself can be viewed as a positive for the Wie camp.

American tournament organisers will carry on falling over each other's chequebooks to sign up Wie and so give their event the chance of a historic billing, and by staging a preview performance in Korea she has opened up another lucrative box office. Wie's parents are from South Korea and this week the country has greeted her arrival like a heroine's homecoming, rejoicing in her flawless fluency in their language.

Evidence of her popularity was provided by a bizarre incident on the 16th yesterday. As Wie tried to get up and down from a greenside bunker, the adjoining expressway to the par three became clogged as traffic stopped to watch her. Within minutes patrol cars arrived sounding sirens for the onlookers to move on, but all this did was lead to confrontations as fans claimed the police had distracted Wie into missing her four-footer for par.

"It didn't matter. It made me laugh," she said. She probably appreciated that her own siren had just been heard across the world.

* Billy Payne, who ran the 1994 Atlanta Olympic Games, is replacing Hootie Johnson as the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Johnson, 75, had served in the role since 1998, leading the fight against demands that women be allowed to join the club.

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