Michelle Wie West returns to the desert, climbs leaderboard at ANA Inspiration

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Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
·4 min read
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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – A book could be written on Michelle Wie West’s golf career just at the ANA Inspiration, where she first played as a 13-year-old in 2003. In Thursday’s opening round, Wie West added a new chapter to that book.

In her first start in the LPGA major championship since 2019 and in just her third round of the 2021 season, Wie West rolled in some key putts for unexpected birdies on the way to a 2-under 70 on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club.

While that leaves Wie West three shots off the early lead of Shanshan Feng midway through the first round, it was Wie West and her memories at the course that were the talk of the ANA inspiration.

ANA Inspiration: Leaderboard

“I always think the tradition here, just knowing the legends that have jumped into Poppie’s Pond,” Wie West said after her round. “Honestly, it’s the volunteers that make it special to me. I recognize a lot of faces over the years. Just being able to see them year after year and just the vibe here is great.”

Wie West’s career at the ANA Inspiration includes playing in the final threesome on Sunday in her debut at 13, threatening to win the title when she was 14, missing a playoff by one shot when she was 16 and falling just short in a final-round duel with Lexi Thompson in 2014. Somehow, Wie West has never won the tournament to make the champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond.

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She is now back in the event as a 31-year-old married woman with a child, and it is, in her words, weird.

“You know, looking back, I was a kid,” Wie West said of her debut in the event 18 years ago. “I still feel like a kid. Having a baby definitely puts a different perspective on everything. I’m more excited to go home and see her than I was about my round, to be honest.”

A hot putter pays off

Playing the back nine first, Wie West made the turn at even par. But she rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the first hole, birdied the short par-5 second hole and rolled in another long birdie putt on the tough par-4 third hole. She shared the lead at 3-under at one point, but a bogey on the sixth hole dropped her down the leader board.

Wie West said as she planned her return to the LPGA after getting married and having her first daughter that the ANA Inspiration was the target for her return. She played in the Kia Classic last week in Carlsbad, missing the cut with rounds of 81 and 74.

”Oh, 100 percent something that I really want to play,” Wie West said. “This place is, as you all know, really a special place to me, and to be back here, especially with a baby here as well, it’s a really special place. That was definitely a goal that I had.”

The early first-round leader also has an interesting story. Feng, from China, didn’t play at all in 2020, sitting at home during the pandemic, trying to figure out what to have for her next meal three times a day, she laughed.

But there was no evidence of rust on Feng’s game on Thursday, with five birdies and no bogeys.

Yuka Saso of Japan managed a 3-under 69 in her first trip to the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and was alone in the lead for much of the day before falling back with a late bogey. Other early finishers included Lexi Thompson at 70, Nelly Korda at 71 and Brooke Henderson at 75. Korda and Henderson were in a three-way playoff with eventual winner Mirim Lee when the 2020 tournament was played five months delayed last September.

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.