Women's game needs a Wie bit of magic
Sunday 26 July 2009
The last time Michelle Wie teed it up in the Ricoh Women's British Open her left wrist was as mangled as her public profile and pretty much everyone was relieved when she crashed out with a second-round 80. Now, two years on, Wie returns and although the pain is only masked by powerful anti-inflammatories, at least her chances of contending for a first major seem healthy enough.
Certainly the female game could do with a Wie win at Lytham this week. It has been a harrowing season so far for women's golf – perhaps worse than it has been for any mainstream professional sport. Many sponsors have been lost, tournaments scrapped and the resulting panic saw a group of leading players basically stage a coup to remove the LPGA Tour's chief executive. While Carolyn Bivens was at fault there is another problem: the lack of a true sport-transcending superstar has only become more apparent since last year's retirement of Annika Sorenstam.
With respect to Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Co, Wie could be that true superstar. So what is the likelihood of the big-hitting Hawaiian at last living up to the fanfare which greeted her $10m (£6m) unveiling as a pro four years ago? There have been some encouraging results this year. Under new management, Wie (right) actually went through LPGA Tour school to "earn" her playing rights and despite still suffering from the wrist injury, which led to her missing Sunningdale last year, Wie has five top-10 finishes from 11 events. In her last LPGA tournament, Wie finished a close third with a final-round 64.
Nevertheless, she would not be Michelle Wie without the occasionally huge setback. Rather embarrassingly Wie failed to make it through qualifying for the US Women's Open at Saucon Valley.
That meant three weeks off, but she has enjoyed an opportunity to remove the rust these last few days at the Evian Masters in France. After back-to-back- rounds of two-under par 70, Wie goes into today's final round nine shots behind a trio on 12-under, including the in-form Welshwoman, Becky Brewerton. With her 20th birthday looming in October this will be Wie's last chance to win a major as a teenager.
And then there is the female version of the Ryder Cup taking place in Illinois next month. At 16th in the American rankings, Wie's challenge is obvious. "Cross my fingers, I can play really well at the British and get enough points," said Wie. "That is a big goal."
To this end, Wie will need to replicate the heroic display of 2005 – when she finished third as a 15-year-old amateur at Birkdale. Time for some positive headlines again on England's north-west coast. For sport and individual both.
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