Sorenstam lags behind as Wie sets testing pace

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The Independent Online

Annika Sorenstam always knew that it wasn't going to be easy. But if proof were needed that winning the third leg of her declared target, a calendar Grand Slam, would be the hardest so far, it came in the first round of the US Women's Open at the Cherry Hills golf club here in Colorado.

The Swede opened with a level-par 71, a satisfactory score in itself but one with a couple of concerns attached to it. One was the fact that eight other players beat it and another was the manner of its compiling. Seventy-one was absolutely the best the round could have been and had she not holed five par putts of between five and 10 feet, she might already be seriously struggling.

But, as Sorenstam remarked, a championship is a marathon, not a sprint and she firmly believes that the first round of any tournament amounts to no more than 10 per cent of the whole.

No panic yet, then, not even when she saw the player who came second to her two weeks ago in the second leg of the Slam, the McDonalds LPGA Championship, take a share of the lead after the lightning-delayed first round was completed yesterday. That, of course, was the amazing Michelle Wie, possibly the most mature 15-year-old on the planet.

David Leadbetter, her coach, also believes that she is the best 15-year-old golfer, male or female, he has ever seen and as that also covers Tiger Woods, it is indicative of a massive talent. Wie finished on two-under, 69, along with Angela Stanford, the 19-year-old Brittany Lang and France's Karine Icher, with Lotte Neumann of Sweden among those a stroke behind.

Wie had to suffer a teenager's worst torment - getting out of bed at 4.15am -to finish off her round. It was worth it, though, as she chipped to six inches at the long 17th for a birdie and then nearly brought the fearsome 18th to its knees.

This hole, 459 yards long, features a lake all along the left-hand side and then a green elevated all of 80ft above the fairway. For the first round it averaged close to five strokes as many players struggled even to reach the putting surface.

But Wie hit a huge drive and then a mere six iron to 12ft. The putt for the outright lead looked in all the way and when it slipped by on the left, Wie sank to her knees in disbelief.

It was on this green, in 1976, that Andy North had a six-footer to win the US Open. He addressed the ball, stepped away, addressed it again and stepped away again.

By this time everyone knew he would miss and believed the 18-hole Monday play-off with JC Snead and Dave Stockton was a certainty. Then North returned to the putt for a third time - and when it went in the loudest cheer by far came from the media centre, whose travel plans were now intact.

North's putt was for par, but when Wie missed hers it meant that no one had birdied the hole in the first round. The Hawaiian phenomenon could have few complaints, however. After using 16 putts on her front nine, she needed only 12 on the homeward run, including a spell from the 12th to 17th where she single-putted each hole.

Leadbetter had spent a couple of hours with Wie on the putting green before the championship trying to make her less mechanical and inculcate more "feel" into the putting stroke.

"It seems to be working," smiled Wie, "I'm getting better at it. I was shooting for consistent, under-par rounds and now I have one. But there's still a long way to go."