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Michelle Wie ready to take on the men again

Fresh from school exams and with a driving test looming large next Tuesday, Michelle Wie is determined to have fun at this week's Sony Open where she will be playing alongside the men for the seventh time.

The 16-year-old Honolulu schoolgirl will be bidding to become the first woman to make the cut in a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945 but says she does not feel under any added pressure.

"I'm feeling very relaxed," Wie told a news conference at Waialae Country Club on Tuesday after playing a practice round with fellow American Sean O'Hair and Britain's Justin Rose.

"I think it would be a very successful week if, at the end of it, I have a good week, have had a lot of fun and know I have played as hard as I can.

"I definitely had a lot of fun out there today and playing with Sean and Justin was awesome, just seeing what they do. Fitness-wise, they are in great shape. Hopefully I'll get there too."

Wie, who will be playing in her third Sony Open in her native Hawaii but the first since she turned professional last October, has already enjoyed one benefit of being in the paid ranks.

"I still feel the same on the golf course as I did when I was an amateur, but it's cool to have a big golf bag now like everyone else on the range."

Over the U.S. winter, Wie has been working hard on her short game with swing coach David Leadbetter and on a strengthening programme with Canadian physiologist Paul Gagne, who has mainly worked with Olympic ice hockey players.

The results are already beginning to bear fruit.

"David has been the best thing that ever happened to my game," said Wie, who wrote her mid-term exams at school last week. "He's awesome and knows so much about the game.

"And one benefit of working out over the last few months is that I can even eat a bit more junk food!"

Wie, the game's most celebrated teenager since Tiger Woods, defended criticism that she should be learning the winning habit by focusing her playing schedule on women's LPGA Tour events.

"I think that playing in men's events will help me to win women's events," she said. "In all the practice rounds and tournament rounds that I play with the men, I learn so much. It helps me to become a better player overall."

Leadbetter, whose clients have included former world number ones Nick Faldo and Nick Price, believes it only a matter of time before Wie makes the cut in a men's event.

"Her goal is to make the cut this week," he told Reuters.

"She always says she likes to have fun, and she always seems to have fun. But it won't be long before she succeeds.

"If it's not this week, it's certainly going to be soon when she's going to make the cut in one of these men's events because she's getting closer and closer."

Wie missed the halfway cut by a stroke when she played in her first Sony Open in 2004.

She suffered a late collapse to miss the cut at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic last July and missed out by one stroke four months later at the Casio World Open in Japan, her first men's tournament as a professional.

The Sony Open, the second event on the 2006 PGA Tour, starts on Thursday.

January 11, 2006


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