Wie in full grind mode at Kraft

Michelle Wie hits her second shot at the 12th hole during the first round of the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Michelle Wie hits her second shot at the 12th hole during the first round of the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Several factors contributed to Michelle Wie’s opening tee shot on No. 10 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a high block 30 yards right of the fairway.

But one thing seemed certain after that, the first of several poor tee shots on her first nine – this was not going to be a good day for Wie, who was coming off a tie for 57th last week in Phoenix.

Instead, she used timely putting and a sharp short game to escape with a 1-under 71. Her 20-foot birdie on her final hole got her under par for the first time on a day when she was mostly scrambling for par.

There was no standard bearer with Wie’s group, so the most-asked question Thursday besides, “What’s she shooting?” was, “How’d she do it?”

Well, Wie hit only eight fairways and eight greens, but used just 25 putts to finish under par. Wie is T-18 and five off of Brittany Lincicome's lead on a low-scoring day at Mission Hills.

“It was a little sketchy in the beginning,” said Wie, who admitted to a case of the first-tee jitters.

She missed her first three fairways badly, having to punch out from the trees each time. She made an 8-foot par putt to get up-and-down from about 100 yards on the first hole, then was forced to lay up on the par-5 11th. She had her first of two bogeys Thursday when she missed a 6-foot par putt on No. 12.

The 10th hole was one of four par saves on her opening nine, including another from almost 100 yards at the par-4 15th, where she again missed the fairway badly to the right. She made eight pars and one bogey on her first nine holes.

“It’s a typical thing of Michelle ever since we started working,” Wie’s swing coach, David Leadbetter, said about her poor driving. “Everyone has recurring tendencies, and with her build, her legs get going very quick and the club lags behind.”

Equipment may have also been part of the problem, Leadbetter said.

“She’s just messing around, trying to find the right shaft (in her driver),” he said. “There’s an (extra-stiff) shaft in there, which isn’t very forgiving. ... I think that shaft may be a little stiff for her.

“You know, she’s always sort of played (extra-stiff) shafts, probably a throwback to the days when she thought, ‘That’s what the PGA Tour players play, so I’ve got to play it.’ ... When her rhythm’s good, it’s fine, but you’ve got to find something a little more forgiving.”

Wie had her first birdie at the par-5 second hole, making a 10-foot putt after a well-placed wedge shot. She made bogey two holes later when she blocked her tee shot into the right trees on the par-4 fourth. Her punch shot ran through the green and she missed a 5-foot par putt.

She hit 6-iron to 4 feet on the par-3 fifth and made the putt to get back to even par. Wie saved par after missing the green at Nos. 7 and 8, then birdied her last hole.

Wie hit five of seven fairways on her back nine, saying she got into a rhythm after hitting a solid tee shot on the par-4 16th.

“I just think I felt a lot more confident (on my back nine),” Wie said. “I hit one good shot and it clicked and I just kept that feeling going.”

Wie has had past success here, most recently at LPGA Q-School, when she finished tied for fourth in a first-stage qualifier on Mission Hills’ Palmer and Dinah Shore courses. She had four consecutive top-15 finishes at the Kraft from ‘03 to ‘06, including a fourth-place showing in ‘04 and a tie for third two years later, her most recent appearance in this event.

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