Michelle Wie, who’s had a season to forget, cruised to a bogey-free 6-under 66 Thursday and a share of the lead on Day 1 of the LPGA Tour’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
Beginning her opening round with two birdies, Wie made the turn and immediately poured in four in a row. The 23-year-old Stanford grad may have found only nine of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation, but she needed just 26 putts and averaged more than 290 yards off the tee, easily outdriving most of the field but for big-hitting Brittany Lincicome.
Lincicome’s 303-yard driving average may have dwarfed Wie’s, but the 2009 Kraft Nabisco champion found herself five shots back of the former teen phenom heading into Friday’s second round.
Wie mounted her charge on a day when Annika Sorenstam said on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” that she had expected to battle the young prodigy for years for supremacy of the LPGA, only to watch her young rival fall far short of expectations.
"Yes, I thought so," Sorenstam said about whether she believed Wie would present the biggest threat to her dominance as the tour’s best player in her prime. "It was just a matter of time. I thought after a little experience, she would do this."
Wie burst onto the golf scene at the age of 10 with a long, powerful swing and the promise of greatness she has yet to fulfill. Sorenstam, who has criticized Wie for some of her choices in the past, recalled a youngster with the skills of a star.
"When she joined the tour...she was hitting it a long way and she was hitting it high," Sorenstam said. "She had a short game that nobody else had on the women's side."
To Sorenstam, Wie’s failure to play up to her abilities was disappointing.
"I think we're all surprised that she really hasn't done much more," Sorenstam said. "I think it's too bad. She's still very young, hopefully she can still do it, but her future was so promising.”
Wie, who entered Ochoa’s event following her second-highest finish of the year (tie for 23rd at last month’s Taiwan Championship) but has only one top-10 finish in 21 tourneys, expressed confidence about returning to the venue where, in 2009, she captured the first of her two tour wins.
“Coming back here, I have a lot of great memories,” Wie, who added a triumph at the 2010 Canadian Women’s Open to her resume, told reporters on Wednesday.
Despite starting the week ranked 52nd, Wie believes her future awaits.
“Thanks, Lorena, for having me here. Hopefully I can start things up again,” Wie said. “I´m starting from scratch this year so great timing for this week.”
Wie, by the way, may not want to get too comfortable atop the leaderboard of the limited-field event. In addition to sharing a one-shot advantage with Angela Stanford and Candie Kung, Wie will be peeking over her shoulder Friday at a handful of players in second place, including soon-to-be crowned Rookie of the Year So Yeon Ryu, sizzling hot Inbee Park (11 top 10s in her last 13 starts, including two wins), and presumptive Player of the Year Stacy Lewis.
Fresh from her fifth-career LPGA victory at last week’s Mizuno Classic, where she came from seven shots back to beat second-round leader Bo-Mee Lee, Lewis grabbed a second-place spot on Thursday after a flawless 67 that included a birdie on the par-5 18th. The 214 points Lewis earned with the Mizuno victory bolstered her lead to 58 over Park in the PoY race.
Also on the course this week is world No. 1 Yani Tseng, who continued to play her way out of a nearly season-long funk. After back-to-back third-place finishes in Korea and Taiwan and a fourth-place in Japan, Tseng will head into Friday at 2-under.
Tourney host Ochoa, who said Wednesday she had no regrets about retiring when she did in 2010 at the age of 28, signed for a 1-under 71. While excited to play in the tourney before a hometown Guadalajara (Mexico) Country Club crowd, the 27-time tour winner quashed any talk of an imminent return to the tour.
“I wouldn’t change this for anything,” Ochoa said about her family life and the time she spends working with her foundation. “I’m happy with what I’m doing I don’t see myself again on the LPGA Tour. It’s a tough schedule, I’m happy having a son, and hopefully our family will grow next year.”