Golf Tidbits: Wie starting to meet expectations

The Sports NetworkApril 21, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - For non-golf fans, it seems as though Michelle Wie been around forever. That isn't the case, but the reality is Wie has been making a name for herself since 2003.

Wie was just 13 when she played her first Kraft Nabisco Championship. Propelled by a third-round 66 that year, she claimed low amateur honors by finishing ninth.

Starting with that 2003 Kraft Nabisco, Wie posted four top-10 finishes in her first eight major championship starts. She was still an amateur in all eight of the tournaments.

Wie turned pro at the precocious age of 16, and finished in the top five in the first three majors that year.

The expectations for Wie, which were high to begin with, were now sky-high. But it wasn't until the 2009 season that Wie would break through for her first victory. She made it two years in a row when she won in 2010. Wie also made her first U.S. Solheim Cup team in 2009.

But, those lofty expectations were never met by her performance.

What was Wie's problem? There are plenty of opinions on that, but the biggest thing was her school work. Wie was enrolled at Stanford University from 2007 until her graduation in 2012.

She won her first two titles and made her first two Solheim Cups team while splitting time between the tour and school, but also missed time with a wrist injury that was never fully explained and was only playing a partial schedule on tour around going to Stanford for two quarters a year.

In 2013, her first full season on the LPGA post-Stanford graduation, Wie struggled with just four top-10 finishes in 26 starts. Two of those four top 10s came in 54-hole tournaments.

The expectations were still there, but the results weren't. Wie's tie for ninth at the last year's LPGA Championship marked her first top-10 finish in a major since she ended in sixth place the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Prior the 2011 Kraft, she hadn't had a top-10 finish since the 2006 U.S. Women's Open.

Now that the calendar has flipped to 2014, Wie has finally figured something out. She is using a new putting stance looks awful to many, but she ranks 17th in putts per green in regulation and leads the LPGA in scoring average.

Wie also leads the tour in greens in regulation, rounds under par and now tops the money list.

The naysayers will say it's about time for the 24-year-old. Wie has finished inside the top 16 in each of her seven starts in 2014. In 28 rounds, Wie has only three rounds of par or worse.

All of that is a prelude to her breakthrough victory on Saturday at the LPGA LOTTE Championship.

Wie entered the final round four strokes behind fellow American Angela Stanford. Slowly, but methodically, Wie climbed to the top of the leaderboard and pulled away from the field on the back nine.

Three birdies in the first six holes got her within reach of Stanford, who then bogeyed the eighth to create a three-way tie for the lead between the two and sponsor invite Hyo-Joo Kim.

On the back nine, Wie stepped on the gas. Back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 gave her a two-stroke lead. She picked up another birdie at 16, and that helped when she bogeyed the last hole.

The win came in Wie's native Hawaii and was her first win in the United States. Her other two titles came in Canada and Mexico.

It seems easy to say from afar, but maybe Wie needs to stay focused on things outside the ropes and that will help her inside the ropes. She hosted lots of family and friends all week at the tournament, then was hosting a charity event after the final round.

Wie also hosted a concert after the first charity event. She was putting in a full day before even thinking about her round of golf.

With plenty of things that could have distracted Wie, she cruised past a pair of foes and held off the top player in the women's game, world No. 1 Inbee Park, who matched Wie's 67 to end three back.

Wie followed what could have been a crushing defeat to teen sensation Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco with as impressive a win as she's had as a professional.

Wie's time is now, and there aren't many who can stop her now that she has all parts of her game clicking.

KUCHAR BUCKS FINAL-ROUND STRUGGLES

Matt Kuchar has wins in four of the last five years, but getting to the winner's circle in 2014 has been a bit of a challenge.

He entered the final round at the Heritage on Sunday four shots off the lead. In his previous five final rounds, Kuchar's scoring average was 73.8. If he followed that trend on Sunday, Kuchar would have finished outside the top 15.

However, he bucked that recent trend by pouring in six birdies in the first eight holes, which helped him fly into the lead. It wasn't easy coming down the stretch as the wind kicked up and caused fits.

Kuchar's tee shot on the par-3 17th stopped within five feet, but he three- putted for bogey from there to fall back into a tie for the lead with Luke Donald, who had two second-place and two third-place finishes in the last five years at this event.

At the 18th, Kuchar holed a bunker shot for birdie and the win as Donald ended one back by closing with six straight pars.

The win was the icing on the cake for Kuchar, who has been knocking on the door of late. This was his fourth straight top-five finish and eighth top-10 of the season.

Seven of those top-10s have come in stroke play tournaments. In those seven events, only five of Kuchar's 28 rounds are over-par. Countering that, 18 of those 28 rounds have been in the 60s. It's easy to see why Kuchar leads the tour in scoring average and top-10 finishes.

Kuchar was coming off a tie for fifth at the Masters, his third straight top-10 at the season's first major. He has just one top-10 finish at the U.S. Open, which is seven weeks away.

If he can keep his momentum, Kuchar will be among the favorites at Pinehurst.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Kudos to Pablo Larrazabal for escaping a swarm of hornets by jumping into a lake at the Malaysian Open. He got out of the water, dried off and birdied the hole. Pretty impressive considering he had been stung upwards of 20 times by the attacking hornets.

- Miguel Angel Jimenez won his Champions Tour debut, but you won't see a lot of him on that tour the remainder of this year. The Spaniard wants to play his way onto the European Ryder Cup team. He is five spots away on the European points list, but just one spot from qualifying on the World Points list. If he remains that close on both lists, captain Paul McGinley would certainly entertain the possibility of choosing Jimenez with one of his captain's picks.

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