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Michelle Wie set for professional debut

Michelle Wie, relaxed and smiling on her 16th birthday, is looking forward to starting her "dream job" as a professional in the $850,000 Women's World Championships at Bighorn Golf Club on Thursday.

"I'm really excited and feel ready to play as a professional," she said on Tuesday. "I don't think there is any extra pressure, it's just an extra incentive."

Six days after announcing she would play for money, and having signed sponsorship deals estimated to be worth $10 million, Wie also outlined her plans to one day compete regularly on the men's PGA Tour and qualify for the Masters.

"My immediate focus as a professional is to win more tournaments but the PGA Tour is still my dream," added the Hawaiian teenager, whose only victory of note was in the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

"Going to the PGA Tour qualifying school is definitely a possibility in the future. If I practise hard, then maybe in the next couple of years or so."

Still with two years to complete at Punahou High School in Honolulu, Wie insists she still intends to go to college, with Stanford University in California her favoured choice.

Next season, she is likely to repeat this year's schedule of playing six LPGA tournaments, through sponsor's invites, plus the U.S. and British women's Opens and some men's tournaments.

"But I haven't finalised my schedule," she said.

Given a cake by the Bighorn Club, Wie said she had also received lots of electronic gadgets for her birthday and next week hopes to get her driving licence and, hopefully, a car.

Even filling in her first tax form filled her with glee.

"I know it's not something you should get excited about, but it's pretty cool for me," she said.

Turning professional had taken a lot of time and thought but the fact that her idol, South Africa's world number four Ernie Els, told her in August she was ready to make the transition was a telling factor.

"I thought I was maybe too young but I think I'm ready," she added. "Ernie has always been my idol and the fact that he told me I was ready was really great."

As an amateur -- stretching back to a tournament in Hawaii in 2002 when she qualified as a 12-year-old -- Wie played in 24 LPGA tournaments and made the cut in the last 16.

She has never missed the cut in eight majors, and first hit the world's headlines when she tied for ninth as a 13-year-old in the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

This year, she was second behind Annika Sorenstam in the LPGA Championship and tied for third in the Women's British Open.

She played in seven LPGA tournaments as an amateur this year, and would have won $640,870 -- good enough for 14th place on the money list.

In the Women's World Championships tournament last year, she tied for 13th but this year she intends to do much better.

"I've grown up a lot since last year and my game is much more consistent," she said. "I don't think I'll be any more nervous on Thursday morning. I'm just excited and looking forward to playing as a professional."

Wie will make her professional debut playing alongside American Cristie Kerr. World number one Annika Sorenstam, a four-time winner, is the defending champion.

October 12, 2005

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