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Sergio Garcia thinks Michelle Wie is good for golf

Sergio Garcia insisted Wednesday that Michelle Wie's appearance in Omega European Masters was good for the game.

The only member of Europe's Ryder Cup team playing in this event, Garcia's stance stood in contrast some of the stodginess toward women on the European PGA Tour.

CEO George O'Grady previously described the practice of women playing in men's events as a "gimmick." France's Jean Van de Velde famously demonstrated his feelings on the issue by asking for an entry form for the British Women's Open, claiming he would "shave his legs and wear a kilt" if necessary.

When she tees off Thursday, Wie will become just the second woman to play in a European Tour event. England's Laura Davies, who finished next-to-last in the 2004 ANZ Championship in Australia.

Some members of the tour's rank and file dislike Wie - here on a sponsor's exemption - taking the place of a player who could be struggling to retain their card for next season, where the money they could earn this week might make all the difference.

But Garcia sees the bigger picture and realizes anything which increases interest in the sport will keep happy the sponsors who put up this week's $2.637 million prize money and pay for such extras as courtesy cars and free food for the players.

"Anything that helps the game of golf is good, no matter what," said Garcia, who played a practice round with Wie on Tuesday ahead of the defense of his title. "It might not help the guy she takes the spot from this week, but it might help him in the future.

"When I see Michelle or Annika Sorenstam playing on a golf course I don't see them as a female player; I see them as golfers."

The 16-year-old Wie has made just one halfway cut in nine previous outings in men's events, qualifying in Korea earlier this year. Garcia feels her relatively low ball flight could count against her on Crans-sur-Sierre's small, undulating greens.

Told the odds of Wie making the cut were around 2-to-1, Garcia thought is was worth the risk.

"If I had to put my life on it, probably not, but if I had 10 (British) pounds, why not?" he siad. "She is a wonderful player, pretty long for her age and being a woman and she has beautiful distance control with the irons.

"She might struggle a bit if it doesn't rain because some of these greens are really difficult to hit for us. If we are struggling to hold them with 9-irons, you can imagine what it's going to be like with longer clubs."

Wie will play with England's Nick Dougherty and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in the first two rounds. Dougherty admitted it is something of a double-edged sword.

"It is a privilege in many ways, a burden in others as there is the added pressure of, if she beats me, I have to shake her hand and say, 'Well done, play well at the weekend,'" joked Dougherty, who has missed nine straight cuts.

"I have my own problems at the moment, but maybe I need that little push anyway. She should enjoy the experience, and from what I have seen and what our coach David Leadbetter has told me about her, she is absolutely capable of making the cut."

Dougherty feels there would be a number of bruised egos among the players who finish behind Wie this week.

"I can beat Tiger Woods three days out of four but I can't go up to him and say I am better than him," he said. "It is one of things and she is capable of beating anyone. She has played with Ernie Els before and when she plays with top players, she tries to beat them. I think Ernie only beat her by one, so she obviously has a bit of game.

"If she makes the cut it would be great for her, but would it be great for us? I don't know."

However, Dougherty shares Garcia's appreciation for the bigger picture.

"Think how many people are going to watch this on the television because Michelle is here," he noted. "It works really well for the sponsors and has brought massive attention. It is amazing a 16-year-old has a bigger effect than Ernie Els or Sergio Garcia has on this tournament. The crowd is going to be bigger.

"She has that 'wow factor' Tiger has right now. There are obviously going to be guys who disagree and say she takes a spot in the tournament a guy could have but all in all, you weigh it up and I think she is a bonus for this tournament."

September 7, 2006


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