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Wie sets sights on making cut at Sony Open

The Sony Open golf tournament doesn't begin until Thursday at Waialae Country Club, but already the Michelle Wie sightings have begun.

At last week's pro-am of the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, Maui, Wie was swapping autographs with actor Samuel L. Jackson, launching long drives at tour pro Fred Funk and rocker Alice Cooper, and handling the large media crush with poise.

We may not have seen anything yet.

Wie will attempt to make history when she strives to become the second woman - and the first in 60 years - to make a PGA Tour cut. It's a goal she failed to reach last year at the Sony Open, falling short by one stroke.

Wie's schedule is packed. The 15-year-old Punahou School sophomore played in a pro-am yesterday and will play in another today.

This morning, golf's two "Bigs" - Ernie Els, called "The Big Easy," and Wie, nicknamed "The Big Wiesy," for their effortless swings - will play a practice round at Waialae.

This afternoon, she will take on comedian Adam Sandler as her "pro" for the First Hawaiian Bank Pro-Jr. Challenge.

Both are exciting events, but Thursday will be the first round of the rest of her life.

Wie's second PGA Tour appearance has been eagerly anticipated since she teased her fans with her audacious game last year. She provided a peek into the golf world of the future, where women actually "belong" on both PGA and LPGA tours, as Wie keeps saying she does.

To prove it, at the age of 14 she came within a shot of making the cut, beating 47 men.

One of them was Adam Scott - who went on to rank No. 7 on the 2004 PGA Tour money list at $3.7 million. His coach, Butch Harmon, used it as a motivational tool, posting Wie's picture in Scott's locker.

Wie was asked last week: If you were one of those guys, would you have been embarrassed?

"Definitely," she said, giggling. "That's like a 1-year-old came and beat me. I'd be really embarrassed."

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the first female to play on a men's tour, remains the only woman to make a PGA Tour cut. She last did it 60 years ago. Her best finish was 33rd.

But Didrikson never broke par, and she wasn't a high school freshman. Wie was all that last year when she closed at Waialae with a 2-under-par 68.

That showing helped Wie place seventh in GolfWorld's annual "Top 100 Newsmakers of The Year."

Maybe most intriguing was that she wasn't even hitting the ball well.

Wie sank a pair of 50-plus-foot putts. She had 13 one-putt greens and needed but 23 putts all day.

A Sunday-like crowd of 10,955 - a 60 percent increase over the previous year - showed up to watch that Friday. The fans were so frantic at the end, Wie believed she had made the cut.

"On the last three holes I knew I could make it if I had two or three birdies, and I managed to make two birdies," Wie recalled. "And the feeling on the last hole ... I thought I made it. That was the best feeling in the world when I made that putt. Then I found out I didn't make it."

Wie was broken-hearted - for at least 10 minutes. She started plotting her return before dinner.

A year ago, Wie wore out the Waialae fairways practicing in the months before Sony, spending about 100 hours on the course.

"I've played a lot more this time. ... I've been breathing the air a lot there," Wie said. "Last year, I just played the golf course, didn't really look for stuff or try to read the greens. This time, I tried to figure out the course and where I should go. I'm thinking a lot more than last time."

She will have help again. A year ago, Gary Player's nephew caddied for her. This week, it will be Jimmy Johnson, who usually carries the bag for Nick Price. He will hoist new Nike clubs, let Wie know when her massive hoop earrings might interfere with her swing and offer any advice he can.

Wie, who can't even remember what she got for Christmas, now makes most of her own calls on the course. The rest of us get to watch, including pros like Els.

"If she hits it like she did last year, I think she's going to have a great chance to make the cut," he said. "Last year, there was not a lot of wind. The cut was 1-under and she shot 140. If there's a little bit of breeze, I think she's got a better chance.

"She's so young, so free should I say, she's not going to be thinking negatively, I'm sure."

Wie, an honor student currently fascinated by physics, doesn't seem to have "negative" in her vocabulary.

"I want to do a lot better than last year," she says. "Make the cut and if everything works out as planned, play really good. I feel I can make the Top 20. That would be really fantastic if everything works out well. That would be really cool.

"Two-under par every day is my goal," she said. "I know I'll have a couple bogeys here and there, but I'm going to try and make a lot of birdies and eliminate all those stupid mistakes."

And what's next? With Wie, that is always the question.

She still says she wants to go to college at Stanford . But she also allows that she is contemplating a pro career during her college years.

"I know there are lots of possibilities, and it's hard to make up my mind right now," she said.

So for now, she plans to go on a shopping spree after Sony. Then she will play at the Hawai'i Pearl Open (Feb. 4 to 6 at Pearl Country Club), where she will face a competitor in her age range. Although the Pearl Open attracts many Japanese male pros, it will also feature Japanese teenager Sakura Yokomine, 19, who has won two mini-tour events.

After that, Wie said she has received exemptions into the LPGA's SBS Open at Turtle Bay (Feb. 24 to 26), the Safeway International (March 17 to 20) and the Kraft Nabisco (March 24 to 27), an LPGA major where she already has two Top 10 finishes.

Wie also earned an exemption into the U.S. Women's Open with her 13th-place finish last year, and her summer is stuffed with other USGA events, including the "men's" U.S. Amateur and Public Links.

But for this week, the cut is what it is all about.

 

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