Michelle Wie playing well, feeling even better

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Michelle Wie was back to her old self on Monday. Wait, scratch that. She was back to her young self.

The former amateur phenom, now an 18-year-old professional who has struggled the past two years, was bombing drives beyond competitors and fairway bunkers. She was sticking iron shots close to pins. And she was rolling in enough birdie putts and tricky par saves to easily qualify for the U.S. Women's Open being held June 26-29 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina.

"It feels good to be playing well again," Wie said after shooting a combined 4-under-par 137 on Monday.

She finished the 36-hole Rockville qualifier at Woodmont Country Club and Manor Country Club alone in second place, only one shot behind behind LPGA Tour player Kelli Kuehne.

The top 35 players advanced to the U.S. Women's Open from a 121-person field dominated by LPGA Tour players who competed in the nearby LPGA Championship last week.

LPGA Tour veteran Michele Redman, who lives in Plymouth, shot 69-69 for a 3-under 138 and a third-place tie with LPGA Tour player Jill McGill and amateur Angela Oh.

Wie began the qualifier at Woodmont and was 2 over through 14 holes. Since it took 4 over to get into a playoff, it's safe to say Michelle was in a wee bit of trouble early.

"It could have gone anywhere for me at that point," Wie said. "It could have gone in a bad direction, but fortunately enough I pulled it back together. I fought through it today."

It's been a while since Wie has been able to say that. She has seven top-10 finishes in women's majors but none since a tie for third at the 2006 U.S. Women's Open.

A recurring wrist injury, horrendous results and plummeting confidence dogged her for most of the past two years until she finished sixth in a Ladies European Tour event in Germany two weeks ago.

"I came off a good week in Germany," Wie said. "And going into the U.S. Open, I know you have to be a good ball-striker to play well there.

"It actually feels good to hear myself say I'll be happy with how I'm hitting the ball at the U.S. Open."

Wie finished Monday's opening round with birdies on three of Woodmont's final four holes to shoot a 1-under 70. She started on the 10th hole at Manor Country Club and was even par for the round through 10 holes after three-putting the par-4 first hole. But she played the final eight holes in 3 under par, one-putting six greens for a 67.

One of those one-putt greens was the 157-yard, par-3 eighth hole. Her tee shot nearly went in before stopping 2 feet past.

"Did I think it was a hole-in-one?" Wie said. "Oh yeah. I was definitely eyeing that one."

Wie withdrew from last year's U.S. Women's Open after hitting her second shot on the 10th hole of her second round, citing a wrist injury. She was 17 over par, 22 shots behind the leader at the time.

Obviously, she's playing a lot better and is more confident in her game now. She will play the Wegmans LPGA Tour event in two weeks and travel to Interlachen the following Monday for her first practice round.

Wie said she doesn't know anything about Interlachen. When told it will have five par 5s, the seemingly rejuvenated big hitter just smiled.

"Five par 5s?" she said. "That sounds like a lot of fun."

It's been a while since Wie has been able to say that.

http://www.startribune.com/sports/golf/19680974.html

   
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