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Teenagers set for season's first Major

Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel are the two new teenagers on the professional block, and are already being billed as deadly rivals.

Unsurprisingly, there is much anticipation surrounding their head-to-head dual in the first major of the women's season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, starting at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage in California on Thursday.

Sixteen-year-old Wie is playing in her first major as a professional -- she already has four top tens (including two in this championship) from eight tries as an amateur -- and has finished third in her only LPGA outing this season, in her native Hawaii last month.

"I'm excited to be back here," said the girl who first hit the global headlines when she finished ninth as a 13-year-old here three years ago.

"Obviously, I've got great memories and I feel I'm playing well."

While Wie's much-hyped career has mostly been made up of sponsor's invitations to various men's and women's professional Tours, 17-year-old Pressel has stuck her flag firmly to the mast of the LPGA Tour.

She joined the circuit at the start of the season and has cemented her status as a rookie star by finishing fifth, 11th and 60th in her three tournaments.

In the past, she has openly criticised Wie's decision to skip junior and amateur tournaments, but she rejects the notion that there is any great needle between the two.

"I don't know Michelle too well because she hasn't played in many of the same tournaments as me," said the Florida schoolgirl, who was rated the world No.1 amateur last year.

"It's great for women's golf and for promoting the women's Tour that we are seen as great rivals. But just because I beat Michelle it doesn't mean I'm going to win this week."

Wie, for her part, says she ignores Pressel's outspoken comments. "Everyone should be allowed to say what they think, and I'm pleased she's got opinions," she said. "But I'm just out here doing my thing and telling my story."

However, while her summer will again be a mixture of men's and women's tournaments, the tale this season will not include an attempt to try and qualify for this year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in England.

It was last October that the Open Championship's organisers, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, changed the rules to allow women to take part with the top five from each major gaining entry to the regional qualifying.

Initially, Wie, who was third in last year's Women's British Open at Birkdale, stated she would be interested in taking part in the Regional Qualifying in July, with the hope of going onto the final qualifying and then into the Open itself.

However, she has accepted an invitation to play in the HSBC Women's World Matchplay Championship in New Jersey at the start of July, and she said: "I would love to qualify for the British Open, but I won't find the time to fit (the qualifying) into my schedule this year.

"But I think it's great that the R & A have changed the rules, and I definitely would love to play in the Championship one day."

While world No.1 Annika Sorenstam, the defending champion, starts as favourite to win the title for a fourth time, Wie and Pressel rank as leading challengers.

For Wie, the week began rather bizarrely by her falling from No.2 on the controversial new world rankings to out of the list altogether. It was because she had no longer met the stipulated minimum of 15 tournament starts over a two-year period.

But if she could land a first LPGA title and a first major on Sunday, then she really would confirm that she is the leading contender to end Sorenstam's five year unrivalled reign at the top of the game.

March 29, 2006


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