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Michelle Wie not the only feature of John Deer Classic

Michelle Wie smiled and waved to the crowd after her approach shot to the 18th green stopped about 20 feet beyond the hole. Moments later, she bent at the knees in frustration as the ball rolled just past the cup.

The crowd groaned. Wie tapped the ball in and walked off the course to cheers and the requisite autograph requests.

There is little doubt who the fans want to see, who the main attraction of the John Deere Classic is.

Wednesday was just a pro-am.

On Thursday, Wie begins another run at history.

Making her fifth PGA Tour start, the 16-year-old will try again to become the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to make the cut. And she's back at the site of last year's near-miss.

"Obviously, I feel more comfortable with my game and more confident with my game," Wie said. "I'm just going to try my hardest and ... see what happens."

A year ago, Wie made the turn at 4 under on the second day. But she double bogeyed her 15th hole and bogeyed her 16th, finished at 1 under 141 and missed the cut by two strokes.

Wie isn't the only story at the John Deere.

There's Chris DiMarco, reeling from the death of his mother last week while trying to boost his Ryder Cup standing.

"I want to get back out there, get that feeling of having a chance to win," said DiMarco, whose last win on the PGA Tour was in Phoenix four years ago. "I'd certainly love to have that chance to win here. With her at my side, it would be great."

And if he made the Ryder Cup team, his mom would "be right on top of my golf bag." Ranked 20th in the Ryder Cup standings, DiMarco earned 2 1/2 points for the U.S. two years ago. And his 15-foot putt won the Presidents Cup last fall.

"My game is back; it's just a matter of getting it in now," said DiMarco, who injured his ribs while skiing in March. "As far as hitting the ball, I really feel like I'm there again."

There's Camilo Villegas, a contender for rookie of the year with two ties for second place and one for third. He also was one of People magazine's "hottest bachelors."

"The bottom line is you've got to play good golf," he said. "You've got to remember why you're here, and you've got to stick to your routine. It's impossible to make everybody happy."

There's David Duval, who hasn't won on the PGA Tour since the 2001 British Open. His highest finish this year is 16th at the U.S. Open -- a tournament he felt he could have won had a few more putts gone in.

"I just had a couple of stretches of holes that kind of took me out of it," he said. "Even Sunday it looked like I had a great chance."

And there's Wie, taking another swing at history and bringing attention to an event that would otherwise be obscured by the upcoming British Open.

She's a year older, more mature.

Wie missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, but made it the last time she played the men, finishing 12 shots off the lead at the Asian Tour's SK Telecom Open.

Wie has had close calls on the women's tour, where she is searching for her first victory. She finished in the top five at all three majors this year, missing a 10-foot putt on the final hole of the Nabisco Championship that would have put her in a playoff.

"She's going to win many times," Villegas said. "I know she hasn't, but it's a matter of time."

Villegas played with Wie at the Sony and thought she was nervous the first day, when she shot a 79. The next day, she carded a 2-under 68 and matched her record for the best score by a female player on a men's tour.

Wie impresses Steve Stricker, too.

Lately, he has been watching the women more than the men on TV. He enjoys seeing Wie and Annika Sorenstam and thinks Wie will make the cut at a men's tournament soon -- if not this week.

He compared what she's doing at 16 to what he did at that age and called it "a joke."

"It's quite different and my hat's off to her," Stricker said. "She's a great player, and she's just going to probably rewrite a lot of record books as she continues to get better and grow up."

July 13, 2006


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