Breakout performance for Wie

Brian Murphy

Unless your idea of a good time is Nick Faldo in a sitting room at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, breaking down Peter Kostis' breakdown of the golf swing of the Allstate guy during a weather delay, then this week's column gets turned over to the only story in golf that really mattered last week.

She's back, all 6-foot-1 of her, with that endless charisma, that total watchability, that flawless swing and, unfortunately, all her accompanying flaws, namely the advice of her parents and a frustrating inability to become Tigeresque at the most Tigeresque moments.

Still, any weekend where Michelle Wie is in a final group is a good weekend. That she blew a three-shot lead with eight holes to play at the SBS Open in Hawaii, playing bridesmaid once again, serves as a nifty starting place for today's talking points.

It is understood that Wie's transformation in the public eye from 2002-2009, from eye-popping, crowd-pleasing, 12-year-old talent to overpaid, winless "nearly woman" of today has brought with it her share of detractors. In fact, if one remembers the old "Little Rascals" episodes with their "He-Man Woman Haters Club," you could probably find one (or two) "Wie-Golfer Haters Club" somewhere out there in an Internet chat room.

Their reasons go something like this, more or less in order: Women shouldn't compete against the men; Wie gets too much hype without any Ws; Wie's career path of reaching for too much, too soon is the anti-path to success; and did we mention women shouldn't compete against men?

I always wondered what about Wie made people so angry. I didn't want to believe it was sexism, but I always had my suspicions. Otherwise, why get so angry? Besides, I had a hard time meeting women who were anti-Wie, unless you count her competitors on the LPGA Tour, who I suspect would have been happy if somebody put her father, B.J., and her mother, Bo, and Michelle's golf clubs on a spaceship and launched it for a distant galaxy.

I was always a Michelle Wie supporter and remain one to this day. Things I like about her include, more or less in order: A spectacular golf swing I could watch over and over; an on-course charisma that transcends every female golfer and about 99 percent of the men; a startling run of success at a startlingly early age; a generally pleasing personality, if one separates her parents' consistently poor advice from Wie's mostly happy and intelligent self.

Did I like it that she kept wanting to compete against PGA Tour competition? I found it intriguing for a good while, especially when she darn near made the cut at the Sony in 2004 and the John Deere in 2005. Did I like it that she said she wanted to win the Masters one day? I did. I don't have a daughter, but if I ever do, I'd love for her to dream like that. Did I think that, after a slump and some terrible results on the PGA Tour, Wie should have backed off and stuck to the LPGA Tour? I do. I think she was the victim of some bad advice from about 2005 onward, when she kept trying to knock down the windmill of men's golf, to the obvious detriment of her game.

Watching Wie in that final group on Saturday at the SBS Open, in the first event of the season and her first event as a full-fledged cardholder on the LPGA Tour, the memories came rushing back, good and bad.

The good: At age 13, playing in the final group at the Kraft Nabisco with Annika Sorenstam in March of 2003.

The bad: Learning it was a dog-eat-dog world months later when LPGA veteran Danielle Ammaccapane berated her at the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge for walking behind her line, barking at the 13-year-old in the scoring tent, saying she'd never amount to anything on tour. Meow. Welcome to the Fame Game, Michelle.

The good: Three top-5 finishes in women's majors in 2006, as a 16-year-old.

The bad: The next year, withdrawing from Annika Sorenstam's tournament mid-round, citing a wrist injury. While suspicions were aroused that Wie was trying to duck the "88 Rule" – meaning a score of 88 or higher would preclude her from any future events that year – Wie did nothing to help by showing up two days later at the LPGA Championship site to get in some practice rounds. Even the always stoic Annika took a shot at Wie, calling her move a "lack of respect and class."

The good: A golf swing so pure, Johnny Miller once called it one of the five best in the world, and Tom Lehman dubbed her "The Big Wiesy" in tribute to Ernie (The Big Easy) Els, who would presumably have one of the other spots on the top five.

The bad: Nine caddies since her father gave up the bag, a sign that Camp Wie is about as stable as the San Andreas Fault that runs by Wie's current college campus of Stanford.

Throw in the rules infraction at Bighorn in '07, the scorecard with no signature in '08, the heat exhaustion at the John Deere in '06 and you have any number of reasons to doubt Wie's ability to reside consistently in Victory Lane. And yet, here I am, with my Wie diehards, in the bunker, saying this past weekend was a good thing, not a bad thing, for her career.

One tournament in, one runner-up finish, and still more game than nearly every player out there. True, the Earl Woods Argument holds water, that she would have been better served learning to win at every level before aiming too high, and in turn damaging her confidence.

Yet, there seems something different about a card-holding Michelle Wie. In the past, we've only seen her play under sponsor's exemptions, always seen her as a special case with a spotlight tracking her. Now, with full playing privileges on the 2009 LPGA Tour, that pressure is off. A runner-up finish at the SBS Open to Angela Stanford is now cause for confidence, not a crushing sense that a once-a-year chance has evaporated. There will be another tournament for Michelle Wie, and another, and another, and the wins will come, because she's that good, and then, sports fans, it will really start to get fun.

Scorecard of the week

65-69-67 – 201, (15-under), Dustin Johnson, winner, rain-shortened AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Sorry, Dustin, for the short shrift this week. That's what happens when the last time we saw you was Saturday, and then they tell us you won on Monday. Actually, check that: The last time we saw Dustin Johnson was in The Lodge on Sunday, sitting with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo during the weather delay, going over taped footage of his 67 at Poppy Hills. CBS had time to kill, and we got to know Johnson a little bit, a laconic South Carolinian who routinely hits drives in the 315-yard range. At 24, he joins Anthony Kim as the only tour players with two wins under the age of 25, so let's see that long-hitting act at Augusta come springtime and hope that, at the least, Johnson got to shake Dirty Harry's hand when he got the crystal in an indoor ceremony at Pebble.

Broadcast moment of the week

• With three and a half hours to kill, CBS eventually had to go to the old chestnut of previous years' footage, but prior to that, the Tiffany Network sent Ian Baker Finch and Gary McCord out to the par-3 7th hole to test the elements. What could have been overly gimmicky turned out to be an illustrative example of just how dangerous it was out there, with the wind nearly knocking the wax out of McCord's mustache.

Those of us snug in our blankets at home were wondering why the golfers weren't out there playing the outdoor sport in any weather, fair or foul, but the McCord-Baker Finch experiment showed us the wind was winning on this day, and we understood why the pine tree on No. 3 fell, and why a scoring tent blew away as well.

Full credit to McCord, who made a '3' on the hole. Baker Finch's tee shot, I believe, went down the snout of a sea lion.

Mulligan of the week

• Standing on the 11th tee box with a three-shot lead, all Michelle Wie had to do was hit a fairway to begin to convince Angela Stanford that it was Wie's day. Stanford had just bogeyed 10, and it was looking for all the world that the pro-Wie gallery – which included, oddly and amusingly enough, sumo wrestlers and some actors from the cast of "Lost," which films near Turtle Bay – would have some history on their hands.

Instead, Wie went with a fairway metal and inexplicably blocked it right, into a hazard. What ensued was a double bogey, and even though she still had a one-shot lead, Stanford sharpened her fangs and made a hat trick of birdies on the next three holes for her fourth win in seven starts, quite Annika-ish and Lorena-ish of her.

Still, to think a hometown win for the hometown girl would have been such a huge story … somebody go back to the 11th tee box and give that Wiesy a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

• The ladies are off, the men head to Riviera, where the ghost of Humphrey Bogart sprinkles cigarette ashes on the putting green. Word is, we're one week away from the return of Sam and Charlie's daddy, so PGA Tour players, get your wins while you can. You have been warned.

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