On the 17th hole of the CN Canadian Women's Open, a first round soaked by intermittent rain, Michelle Wie cracked an iron from the light rough on the fairway's fringe, about 150 yards out. A roar came up from the gallery of fans around the green as the ball rolled to within a foot of the cup.
"Good," Wie allowed herself, a momentary smile during an erratic round and a hard year.
Tapping in for birdie, good fortune extended on 18 as Wie, fighting to get back to even par after bogeys on 15 and 16, blasted a drive upward of 300 yards on one of the Vancouver Golf Club's most difficult holes. On the green in two, Wie had about 20 feet for another birdie. But she blew her first putt some 10 feet by the hole and couldn't make it back for the par.
Another bogey, a two-over-par 74 for the round, and in danger of missing the cut at a tournament where she placed second last year and won in 2010.
After a three-putt finish for Wie, her feelings were obvious. She barked an F-bomb, twice slapped her hips in anger and disappointment, and threw her putter. Wie stood beside the green, arms akimbo, staring at the ground, mired in questions of what's gone wrong.
Wie is 22, two months removed from her graduation from Stanford University, and playing the worst golf of her professional life. Five years ago, the then teenage phenomenon enjoyed fame that transcended her sport, and wealth that Forbes Magazine pegged in 2007 at $16-million (U.S.) annually from endorsements. But as she tried to play with adult men, and never quite delivered on her precocious talent, she suffered barrages of criticism from all corners, over everything from her ambition to her clothing.
Wie sought refuge at Stanford, but even as she relished student life, she golfed on the LPGA Tour, playing 20 or so tournaments a year.
She made most every cut, and placed in the top 10 in one-third of her outings in 2009, 2010 and 2011. She booked two wins, the second coming at the Canadian Open in 2010, a wire-to-wire victory in Winnipeg.
This year for Wie has been terrible, with a scoring average of 74.22 that puts her 118th on the tour.
Promise briefly percolated a week ago in Oregon, when she made the top 10 for the first time this season, five off the winner at eight under, placing eighth.
Wie arrived in Vancouver with hope, enjoying the city and its bounty of varied cuisine, dim sum and chicken feet among the adventurous bites. "Vancouver, you rock," Wie tweeted on Tuesday. But Canada has proved to be no salve.
With her 74 on Thursday, she faces yet another missed cut.
One main issue, beyond some putting problems, is accuracy off the tee. While Wie can still crank the ball, keeping it straight is the challenge, as she managed to land on eight of 15 fairways Thursday.
"I just had a couple of stupid mistakes out there but it's a tough golf course, especially with the rain," Wie said in a brief interview after her round. "I just haven't been playing well this year. But, you know, it's always a work in progress."
Women's golf needs Wie to succeed, said Kane, one of two playing partners on the day. The LPGA Tour was battered by the financial crisis/recession and has just 18 events with a full field of players, half that of the organization's peak.
"You know what, I think we all need to be fair to Michelle," Kane said. "Michelle came out on tour at a very young age, with a lot of expectations. The expectations we have as professional golfers is higher than anybody can place on us. … You're going to see really good golf from Michelle. And she's a good person. The LPGA Tour needs Michelle to be playing well, because she moves the needle. If Tiger moves the needle on the men's side, Michelle moves it on this side."
Yani Tseng birdied five of her last six holes for a six-under-par 66 and a one-stroke lead over South Korean Na Yeon Choi. The reigning U.S. Women's Open champion carded a round of 67, which included seven birdies and a pair of bogeys. Fellow South Korean Inbee Park carded a four-under 68 to sit two shots back. Lorie Kane of Charlottetown is the top Canadian with an even-par 72.