Michelle Wie and hype go together like Tiger Woods and fire hydrants so perhaps it was no surprise to find the excitement threatening to burst forth here last night as the Hawaiian soared high up the Ricoh Women's British Open leaderboard. But, in fairness, this was Wie's best start to a major in more than four years.
The British galleries have been waiting for this sort of display ever since she came third here five years ago as a 15-year-old amateur. And the climax to her 70 did nothing but raise the anticipation of another contending weekend on the Lancashire links. Wie reduced Birkdale's two famous closing par fives to seven shots, her 20-footer for eagle on the 18th effecting the biggest cheer of the day.
From standing at one-over on the 17th tee, Wie signed for a two-under total to put herself in the highest position after a major first round since the US Women's Open at Newport in 2006. For a girl who enjoyed seven top 10s in her first 11 majors and then none in the next four seasons, it has plainly been too long. The manner of her round at least hinted at a return to the good young days.
Wie began with a bogey and proceeded to miss birdie chance after birdie chance in a run of 15 pars. The old Wie – if you can even be considered old at 20 – would have buckled in frustration. Now, in her own words: "I remained patient." Is it far too early to claim this as the new Wie?
In truth, they did so last year when she broke her maiden tag by winning in Mexico. That together with a starring role in the Solheim Cup inevitably led to the "finally realising her talents" headlines. This year Wie has reverted to mediocrity. Last week at the Evian Masters was all too representative of an under-achieving campaign. Beginning with an encouraging 68 she followed it up with a familiar 77. Today will be the time to predict whether this is a resurgence or just another blip.
Alas, it was hard to ascertain how Wie is feeling about it all as her press conference was a succession of guarded answers. For a girl who has been through so much, she says so little, although perhaps the two are inextricably linked. "You can't look forward, you can't look back," said Wie when quizzed as to how good it felt to be back on the big-time leaderboard. "You just have to go out there and stay in the present and hit one shot at a time." Let us just pray she is rather more electrifying inside the ropes.
Wie will have to be if she is to see off rivals including the two-time major winner Yani Tseng, of Taiwan, on four-under and a group including big-hitting Brittany Lincicome on three-under. All of these pacesetters went out in the brighter conditions of the afternoon and those on the wrong side of the draw – such as the evergreen 46-year-old Laura Davies, on level – will be hoping the luck goes flip flop today. Wie knows all about that.
68 Y Tseng (Tai)
69 A-L Caudal (Fr); B Lincicome (US); A Yang (S Kor); Sun Young-Yoo (S Kor)
70 Kim In-Kyung (S Kor); M Wie (US)
71 J Inkster (US); B Lang (US); S Lewis (US); G Nocera (Fr); Jiyai Shin (S Kor)
Par L T Brooky (NZ); L Davies (GB); Han Hee-won (S Kor); A Nordqvist (Swe)