2006: Thirteen unlucky for Wie

By Jay A. Coffin

Kapolei, Hawaii

Michelle Wie and her family made the 25-mile drive east to her Punahou home with a severe case of triskaidekaphobia. It was that utter distaste for the No. 13 that kept Wie from winning the Fields Open

Feb. 25 at Ko Olina Golf Club, a course the towering teen calls home and has wandered hundreds of times.

Thirteen was the unluckiest number for golf’s $10 million girl for several reasons. After shooting 67-70-66 for a 203 total, Wie ended at 13 under par, a score that ultimately kept her a shot out of a playoff between Seon Hwa Lee and eventual winner Meena Lee.

Had Wie played the par-5 13th hole better she might have walked away with the crystal trophy. Instead, she missed the fairway all three days and made a three-putt bogey there on Day 3, one of only six bogeys on that hole during the final round.

While most of the field was on Oahu’s North Shore a week earlier playing in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, Wie was beating range balls at Ko Olina preparing for her first of eight LPGA appearances this year.

For part of her Fields Open preparation, the 16-year-old played a mock 54-hole tournament the same days as the SBS Open to see what score she could post. So, for three consecutive days Wie went through her normal tournament routine – minus the media circus or throngs of hometown galleries. The number Wie recorded? Thirteen under par.

It was a bizarre week for the Big Wiesy, who had not played in a real tournament since the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in mid-January. Before putting a ball in the air, Wie defended questions regarding her No. 3 position in the new Rolex Women’s World Rankings, which debuted with a system that includes anyone who had played 15 events over the past two years. Wie, coincidentally, had played 15.

“It’s not like I invented the world rankings,” she said. “It’s not like I woke up one day and said, ‘OK, why don’t I be No. 3 in the world?’ All I did was play golf.”

Three days later, after a third-place Fields Open performance that paid her $73,227, her first professional check, Wie surpassed Paula Creamer and rose to second in the rankings.

Anyone thinking Wie doesn’t have what it takes to be the second-best player in the world didn’t watch her skillfully work her way around Ko Olina. Her opening 67 included six birdies and a bogey on the par-5 fifth hole, a score equivalent to a double bogey for the long bomber on a day that left the course defenseless. Wie’s second-round 70 was a good score considering she battled what has been her biggest nemesis, the putter.

Before the final round, the feeling in the air was that Wie would make a run but that her six-shot deficit to Seon Hwa Lee was insurmountable. It was, although it didn’t appear that way until the final putt dropped.

Wie combined long drives with soft hands and moved into contention by making birdies on four of the first six holes en route to a front-nine 32.

Another birdie on 11 sent the gallery into a frenzy until the 13th hole jumped up and grabbed the hometown favorite. Wie made birdies on 14 and 17 and missed a 12-footer on the difficult finishing hole that would have given her the clubhouse lead. Moments later, Meena Lee made birdie on the same hole to finish 14 under and shatter Wie’s hope of victory.

“That putt on 18, I basically hit that a lot,” Wie said. “I felt comfortable over it. Then once I hit it, it went in the completely opposite direction I wanted it to. It was supposed to go left to right, but that thing curved left. I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

“I played awesome today. I felt I played very solid today, but unfortunately, not the way I wanted it to turn out.”

It turned out exactly how Meena Lee hoped. The 24-year-old from Korea, who won last year’s Canadian Women’s Open, began the final round tied with Wie and without visions of victory. But a birdie-eagle start changed her mindset. Four hours later, Lee was in a playoff with 20-year-old Seon Hwa Lee, last year’s leading money winner on the Futures Tour.

The Lees (no relation) traded blows until Meena Lee won when she converted a 6-footer for birdie on the third extra hole, the par-4 17th. She shot 69-68-65 for a 202 total.

“I think this win is more special because everybody thinks a rookie, a first-time winner, it could happen,” Meena Lee said through a translator. “But many people think there will not be a second (victory). But I did it and I’m happy.”

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