Return to Form Puts Michelle Wie Back in Open Field

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On the tee box of a par-3 near the end of a marathon day, Michelle Wie consulted with her caddie, Kenny Harms. She had 168 yards to the pin and a 7-iron in her hands.

“Land it a few feet left of the flag,” Harms said.

“Just left of the flag?” Wie said.



With that, Wie took her stance and struck the ball beautifully. It landed on the left side of the green, 18 feet from the pin, and rolled to within 3 feet of the cup. She made the putt for one of the four birdies she carded at Manor Country Club during her second round of 18 holes during sectional qualifying for the United States Women’s Open.

It was like yesterday once more watching Wie shoot a one-under-par 70 in the morning at Woodmont Country Club and chasing it with a three-under 67 at Manor, a few miles away, to earn one of 34 berths awarded here for the year’s third major, at Interlachen Country Club outside Minneapolis from June 26-29.

Whether she was draining a 50-foot putt to salvage a bogey on her seventh hole at Woodmont or hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation at Manor, Wie looked supremely confident, like the Wie of old whose focus was on contending in Grand Slam events, not qualifying for them.

She looked like a different golfer than the one who came to Maryland last year for the L.P.G.A. Championship. That week, she seemed uncomfortable in her swing thoughts, posting scores of 73, 74, 83 and 79 at Bulle Rock Golf Course to finish last among 84 golfers.

The 18-year-old Wie last contended in a major in 2006, when she finished tied for third at the United States Women’s Open. Since then, two teenagers, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng, have won a Grand Slam title. Wie is not yet a sophomore in college, but she has been tested like a graduate student.

“I like the struggling,” she said, chuckling, “but it feels good to be playing well.”

Tseng, who defeated Maria Hjorth of Sweden in a four-hole playoff at the L.P.G.A. Championship on Sunday, is a long hitter who giggles her way through news conferences. She carries herself as if all the world is her playground, the way Wie used to before expectations and injuries took a toll on her swing and her psyche.

Last spring, when Wie returned to competitive play after taking time off to heal a broken wrist, it was almost as hard to coax a smile out of her on the course as it was a birdie. After posting a sixth-place finish at a Ladies European Tour event in Munich two weeks ago and following it with a solid performance here, Wie is more relaxed, and it shows.

In an interview with reporters after finishing her 36th hole, she was asked what her plans were for the next two weeks. She said she would return to Florida on Monday night to resume practicing. “I’m going to smell on the plane,” she added with a laugh.

Wie said she was happy to be back in the United States Open field after withdrawing from last year’s event.

“It feels good to be playing well,” she said. “I think confidence is a big part of my game, and I’m starting to feel confident over my shots.”

That is not to say that she did not sweat Monday. In fact, it was a two-shirt and 12-pack-of-water day, with a Code Red alert in effect in Montgomery County, causing the cancellation of all public high school and youth-league competitive events in the area.

“It was really hot,” said Wie, whose putter seemed to get hotter as the heat index climbed. She one-putted six of her last seven greens. Her caddie, Harms, who also works for Hale Irwin on the Champions Tour, said Wie’s game had improved in the weeks since she played in an L.P.G.A. Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption and missed the cut by four strokes.

“She’s coming along really strongly,” he said.

When Wie played her first hole, shortly before 8 a.m., she had 12 people in her gallery, including her parents, B. J. and Bo. By the time she finished her 36th hole around 6 p.m., there were nearly 200 people following her, including a gaggle of giggly girls who had identical star-struck looks.

Wie was around their age �" in the eighth grade �" the last time she participated in United States Open sectional qualifying. Watching her grind for a spot in a major was like seeing a major leaguer on a rehab assignment in Class A. Wie was here working her game into shape for a return to the big stage.

“I want be in contention,” Wie said. “I want to win. I want to feel like I’m the best player out there.” ... ref=slogin

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