Is this the golfer Wie have been waiting for?

 
 
Published8/22/2009 12:01 AM

If it were merely game changing, under the circumstances it would have been spectacular.

Had it been only the turning point in the tourney, that would have been immeasurable.

 

And, yet, you can't help but wonder if this becomes the defining moment in Michelle Wie's career, propelling her to the greatness forecast for her so many years ago.

The 19-year-old rookie put on nothing less than a brilliant shot-making display on the back nine of her morning fourball match with Morgan Pressel - against Europeans Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth - carrying the U.S. to a comeback halve in what had to be the match of the day.

Just after the turn, and right around the time the Americans were down in three of the four morning games, Wie caught fire, the U.S. restored the Rich Harvest roar, and Wie rallied her match from down a pair to 1 up in three holes.

"This is the most fun I've ever had playing golf. It was just unbelievable, the crowds, the cheers, the pressure, everything about it," Wie said. "It was nothing like I've ever experienced."

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While the U.S. pair couldn't match Matthew's clutch birdie putt on 18, giving away a half-point on the final hole, it was a hard-earned halve in the toughest battle of Day 1.

"I didn't play so great down the stretch," Pressel said. "For a while there it looked like we were going to pull out the full point, so that was definitely a downer at the end. But a half-point is a half-point, and we'll see how big of a deal that is come Sunday."

It's not as though the 21-year-old Pressel didn't do her share, because she was strong on the front and kept the U.S. in it.

Perhaps more important, she kept Wie loose and smiling. Once portrayed as enemies, the two youngsters are now good friends, roommates for the Solheim Cup, and having a blast playing together.

"Morgan played great," Wie said. "We work really well as a team."

They completely dismissed the notion that they ever had problems getting along. But it's not hard to imagine two teens considered underachievers, with so much expected of them, competing for magazine covers and endorsement dollars, having some disagreements.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Redeem Team, if you will, has put it all in the past, and Friday the two were magical.

Wie in particular had so much to prove, a controversial captain's pick, and she may have played the best and most important golf of her life, especially considering what she would have faced had she played poorly.

Wie made half a dozen shots coming home that had a Tiger-esque quality, but the shot of the day was a 210-yard 5-wood to the green from the rough and a bad angle, on the par-5 15th, that also brought the roar of the day.

"With Michelle you just never know," Matthew said. "She's capable of those kinds of shots."

Wie drew the biggest galleries and thundering screams of "Wieeeeee!"

"Every putt and every shot you're thinking, 'God, let's make this crowd erupt. They're ready to explode, and let's do it.' That's all I was thinking," said Wie, who said her heart still was pounding an hour after the round. "They motivated me into making some putts, hitting some shots. It was unbelievable."

She rewarded captain Beth Daniel for having the guts to add the enigmatic Wie.

"She hit so many good shots under pressure and really hung in there and played very well," Daniel said. "You know, I couldn't be more proud of what she did today."

The only one prouder might have been Michelle Wie.

Barnburner

Give the Europeans credit for fighting hard after they fell behind Wie-Pressel, scrambling to stay alive and halve enough holes to get them to 18, where they tied it and stole a half-point.

The European team as a whole managed to keep the tourney close, down only 41/2 to 31/2 after one day despite being a huge underdog and amid the raucous home crowd.

"I'm pleased to have a 1-point lead," Beth Daniel said. "Particularly after the morning when we were behind and we kind of rallied on the back nine and pulled out a couple of those matches, I think that made a big difference for us."

Anyone expecting a blowout through eight matches got quite a surprise, and a terrific show.

"According to you guys, the Euros were a huge underdog. I never felt that way from the get-go," Daniel said. "I knew they'd come in fired up and (captain) Alison (Nicholas) would have them ready to go, and she definitely does.

"My team knew they had to play their best golf if they expected to win this."

Keeping score

Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome were first on the board in the morning, winning 5&4, but rookie Lang said she was the last one to know.

"On our last hole, I had absolutely no idea that we needed to halve that hole (to win)," Lang laughed. "I was so out to lunch. I had no clue.

"I mean, when they got done and they started shaking hands, I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, that's it?' Honestly, I had no idea. Brittany (Lincicome) knew, though. She's an experienced veteran."

Home cooking

The U.S. won the first dispute of the Cup when Michelle Wie got a drop on 18 because of an area under repair - even though it wasn't marked as such. The Euros were none too pleased with the decision.

Sight seen

The 6-foot-1 Michelle Wie patting 5-5 Morgan Pressel on the head and switching spots with her on the 18th tee box, so Pressel could watch the visitors hit.

Sound heard

As Team Brittany celebrated their victory on the 14th green, they were unaware that four players stood in the fairway waiting for them to vacate, causing a spectator to yell, "You got a group following you, ya know!"

Chagrined, the Brittanys waved an apology and quickly shuffled off the green.

Change of strategy

The Euros sent out a power pair of Suzann Petterson/Sophie Gustafson first in the morning and the afternoon - and they lost both matches.

They're not paired up in Saturday morning's fourball.

"I think Suzann and Sophie actually played OK. The Americans holed a few more putts," Alison Nicholas said. "We've been shaving the hole a little bit too much, not finding the middle of the cup. But that may change tomorrow, hopefully."

Rich Harvest Farms

The course is sensational, the volunteers incredibly nice, the crowds bigger than anyone imagined, and the traffic horrendous.

The LPGA has waived parking fees for the weekend and suggests you use alternate routes and any legitimate lot marked for general parking.

Biggest putt

Facing a tough 18th ahead, Paula Creamer dropped a 20-footer for par on 17, halving the hole and giving the U.S. the final match of the day, 2&1.

The quote

Michelle Wie on the first-day galleries: "Walking down each tee box to each green felt like you were walking down 18 in contention in a major, and you times that by 100, and that's what it felt like. It was like nothing I have experienced."

And finally -

U.S. captain Beth Daniel: "Is this summer in Chicago? This feels like the Euros ordered up the British Open."

brozner@dailyherald.com

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