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Wie moving potential for female golfers

Fourteen-year-old Michelle Wie, on the evidence of last week's Hawaiian Open, is poised to go where no sportswoman has gone before.

The 1.83-metre Hawaiian schoolgirl, already hailed as the Tiger Woods of the women's game, appears to have the necessary mix of talent, composure, determination and physique to hold her own against the men.

Naturally, time will tell but it is now thinkable that Wie could break new ground for female athletes.

Although she failed to become the first female to make the cut in a men's PGA Tour event last week, missing out by a single shot after firing a second-round 68, her performance in Honolulu left seasoned tour players gasping.

"She did better than any other woman has ever done on our tour," said three-times major winner Ernie Els, who played a practice round with Wie before the tournament.

"She's got a good future ahead of her. It would be great if she could play next year again."

Davis Love III, the 1997 U.S. PGA champion, enthused: "She shot 68 in a PGA Tour event. That's an incredible accomplishment.

"She's got the potential to win most any golf tournament she enters, but she's still 14 and she's still inexperienced.

"Do you know of any golfer with more potential under the age of 25? Probably not. I think she's the next Tiger Woods, but we will just have to see what happens the next few years."

Seeing what happens is, of course, the key. It would probably be tempting fate, and certainly unwise, to get too far ahead with Wie predictions.

But the simple facts about her cool-headed display under the bright media spotlight at Waialae Country Club speak volumes.

Wie, who can power the ball more than 300 yards, ended the tournament's first two rounds in the top two-thirds of the field for driving distance.

She produced a magician's touch around the greens, played percentage golf whenever she needed and showed a Woods-like determination to avoid bogeys at all costs, frequently saving par by holing out from around 15 feet.

On day two, she became the first woman to shoot a sub-par round in a PGA Tour event, overshadowing world number one Annika Sorenstam, who became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years at last year's Colonial tournament.

Sweden's Sorenstam carded rounds of 71 and 74 and missed the cut by four shots.

Wie also proved in Honolulu she has the ability to conjure up the extra special when most needed.

With three holes to play in Friday's second round, she had to pick up three shots to make certain of making the cut, although at the time she thought two would be enough.

She very nearly did it. On 16, she hit a booming drive 311 yards to set up a birdie-three but, on 17, had to get up and down from the left rough to salvage par.

Needing an eagle-three at the last, she almost drove the green in two before running her chip from 75 feet inches wide of the cup.

The four-foot return putt for a closing birdie was a formality, but Wie was distraught when she realised her bid for history had come up agonisingly short.

"Just one more shot and I would have made it," Wie said. "It's killing me now. I think I played really great. I can't believe I was two-under par."

Wie has already proved she can play with the women, tying for ninth at the 2003 Nabisco Championship, the first of the year's four majors on the LPGA Tour.

She later won the U.S. Women's Public Links Championship, becoming the youngest winner in the 108-year history of the U.S. Golf Association.

Wie, however, has much loftier ambitions and has already set her sights on playing both LPGA and PGA Tours.

Give her another year or two of experience, and there's no telling what she might do when she next plays alongside the men.

For the moment, though, all that must wait.

Wie returns to Honolulu's Punahou School on Tuesday, and does not play again until the LPGA Tour's Safeway International in mid-March.

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