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Wie always welcome at Evian Masters

By GRAHAM DUNBAR
Associated Press

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – As Michelle Wie's playing options narrow in the United States, there is a place in Europe where she will always be welcome.

Organizers of the Evian Masters say they will keep inviting the 18-year-old, who nearly recorded her first LPGA Tour win at Europe's richest women's tournament.

“We do believe that Michelle Wie belongs to the family of the Evian Masters,” tournament director Jacques Bungert told The Associated Press. “I have a great relationship with Michelle and her family because we have been talking about her future even before she became so famous.”

Without a Tour card and relying on sponsors' invitations to play, Wie choose not to use an exemption to come to France and missed the tournament for the first time in five years.

“This year B.J. (Wie's father) called me. Obviously he didn't want to ask for an exemption,” Bungert said. “I guess to him the pride was for Michelle to qualify directly to the Evian Masters. She asked for tournaments that could help her get back on track as well. Evian is not an easy course or tournament.”

Wie first played at the event in 2004 as an invited 14-year-old amateur. She tied for second the following year, though eight strokes behind winner Paula Creamer.

In 2006, Wie came close to earning her first victory, leading by two strokes with seven holes to play. But she made a bogey at 13, allowing Australia's Karrie Webb to edge her with a pair of birdies for a one-stroke win.

“At that time she was definitely very happy, very focused, very easy,” Bungert said. “Michelle, to me, is always someone who is mentally strong and physically strong.”

Wie needs that resolve after her disqualification from the State Farm Classic in Illinois last Saturday.

After completing her third round in second place, organizers discovered she had failed to sign her second-round card before leaving the scoring area.

A win or high finish would have all but guaranteed her enough money to finish in the top 80 LPGA players this year, the cutoff for automatic inclusion in next year's tour.

“That was really sad for her,” Bungert said. “She deserved to win and she would be here today if she had won.”

Instead of looking out from Evian's hillside fairways across Lake Geneva to Montreux, Switzerland, Wie is spending this weekend preparing to play at the Montreux Golf & Country Club in Nevada. She has accepted an invitation to play against the men at the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open starting Thursday.

She will be playing her seventh and final LPGA Tour event of this year at the CN Canadian Women's Open in August. Barring a high finish there, she will have to go through qualifying to get a 2009 LPGA Tour card.

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