- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

SUMMIT, N.J. — There will be no Wie-nged Foot frenzy at next week’s 106th U.S. Open.

Sabotaged by her balky putter, Michelle Wie’s bid to become the first woman to play in a men’s major devolved yesterday during her final-nine 39 at Canoe Brook Country Club. After working herself into position to shock the golf globe at 2-under through 27 holes at the sectional qualifier, the 16-year-old Hawaiian sensation staggered instead of surging down the stretch, consecutive three-putt bogeys on her 31st and 32nd holes short-circuiting her historic salvo.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed I didn’t make it. But I guess I’m satisfied with the way I tried out there. I played my hardest and this is what happened,” said Wie (143), who followed a superb morning 68 on Canoe Brook’s easier South Course (6,623 yards, par 70) with a stumbling afternoon 75 on the North Course (7,066 yards, par 72) to finish five strokes out of the playoff mix. “I felt like I was playing great. It’s not like I hit really bad shots or really bad putts … It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Wie played beautifully from tee to green for most of the day, keeping up with playing partners David Gossett (146) and Rick Hartmann (146) off the tee and pounding greens with machine-like precision. She hit 14 greens during her morning round, an outstanding number at any level.

But even that sterling, bogey-free 68 was marred by the suspect putting, which would prove to be her downfall in the afternoon. Wie missed five birdie putts inside of 10 feet on the South Course (Nos. 2, 3, 4, 11 and 13). Time and again, she wound up on the low side of the hole after tentative strokes.

“I felt like I was playing very well, but the score didn’t show it the way I wanted it to. I guess my ball was afraid of heights or something, because it didn’t want to go in,” said Wie, who had a sub-standard 31 putts in the morning and a scorecard-galling 35 strokes with the short stick in the afternoon. “Obviously, I have to work on my putting.”

In spite of her dubious putting, a brilliant birdie chip-in from 30 yards on the 18th sent Wie to the lunch break on a high and right in the hunt for one of the 18 Open berths available to the field of 153 players. Her 2-under morning score was good for a tie for 15th. And when she made the turn in the afternoon sitting on the same score after an opening-nine 36, her massive gallery began to sense they were about to witness history. Most projected when she made the turn that Wie needed just a 1-under closing nine to get into a playoff and flirt with history. As it turned out, she needed a 2-under finishing nine, but her misbehaving blade made all projections moot.

In similar fashion to her final-nine swoons at the 2004 Sony Open and last year’s John Deere Classic, when she twice flirted with becoming the first woman since Babe Zaharias (1945 Los Angeles Open) to make a PGA Tour cut, Wie slumped down the stretch. Both of her early back-nine bogeys began with 25-foot birdie bids and ended with misses from inside three feet. Both times she slumped and pulled her cap down over her eyes, rare girlish moments from the steely player, who for the most part was every bit the competitive equal of her male counterparts.

“She’s a tribute to the game of golf really,” said Gossett, the former U.S. Amateur champion (1999) and PGA Tour winner (2001 John Deere Classic). “For 16, she’s amazing. Her ball-striking was really impressive, and she carries herself beautifully. She handled even her misses well, and I really respect what she’s trying to do.”

And while Wie finished the sectional tied for 59th and 12 strokes in arrears of medalist Brett Quigley (68-63-131), she left an indelible impression on virtually every patron on the property, as well. Her personal gallery of about 3,000, an Arnie-worthy battalion that forced the USGA and co-host Metropolitan Golf Association to close the gates to the public at 11 a.m. in the interest of crowd control, contained a number of young girls. Most skipped school to watch Wie’s historic bid. And many wore buttons which read “Wie love Wie.”

“Today’s my birthday, and that’s why I’m here,” said 9-year-old Sarah Etheridge, a third-grader from Chatham, N.J. “My dad told me she was playing against all men, and that’s really cool.”

Wie returns to the women’s game later this week, competing in the LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock (Havre de Grace) starting Thursday. But golf hasn’t seen the last of Wie’s gender-bending starts. She’s playing on the European men’s tour at the European Masters next month, and she promised to return to U.S. Open qualifying next year.

“I’m a lot more motivated after today,” Wie said. “I’m really excited for next year. Hopefully next year will be the year.”

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