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Michelle Wie’s enters U.S. Women’s Open as a long shot to defend her title

Michelle Wie brings a hip ailment, a new swing and excitement over the U.S. Women’s World Cup team’s win on Sunday to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Country Club.

David Cannon/Getty Images

Michelle Wie enjoyed the living daylights out of her 2014 U.S. Women’s Open win at Pinehurst No. 2 and appeared to be on her way to racking up the slew of LPGA Tour victories pundits expected of her since her pre-teen days.

There was the trophy-hugging, the carousing, and the celebratory twerking.

After waiting so long for her breakthrough major championship, a letdown would have been understandable and so came back-to-back missed cuts, at the Women’s British Open and Marathon Classic, followed by consecutive withdrawals from the LPGA Classic and Evian Championship. Wie did end the 2014 season with three top-five finishes, a top-15 and a top-20 in her final five events of the year.

This season, though, has been a disaster for the four-time LPGA winner, who has suffered through injuries, illnesses and more injuries, all of which have resulted in three more MCs, another WD, a T64. T57, T51 and other lowly outcomes in 14 starts. This week, the defending champ limps into Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster, Pa., with a new swing forced on her by a hip ailment, as a long shot to hoist the 2015 U.S. Open hardware. But hey, at least she's elated after the U.S. women’s national soccer team's rousing victory over Japan on Sunday night.

"It's definitely been a tough year with my game," Wie told reporters on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s kickoff to the third of five majors on the women’s schedule. "I've been struggling with a couple of injuries and illnesses ... I'm staying positive and just trying to improve a little bit here and there every day."

Candid words from a player who seemed finally last year -- after overcoming years of afflictions and disparagement to win on home turf in Hawaii, contend at the Kraft Nabisco and capture the U.S. Open -- to be on the upward trajectory that over-the-top hype promised for her for so long.

But that was then and this is now. Whatever energy she derived from last year’s stellar season that included the two Ws, a runner-up and two third-place finishes has gone the way of the fluid, graceful swing that was her trademark.

After beginning the year with strep throat that developed into a sinus infection, Wie is finally free of illness. Now, though, she is battling bursitis in her left hip that sends pain shooting down her leg.

In addition to playing with a brace on her left ankle and kinesio tape on her thigh and knee, Wie has had to revamp her swing to take pressure off her left limb. To do so, she has adopted a much narrower stance and said she was gradually becoming more at ease with it.

"I think the results really haven't been showing, but every week, it's been feeling more and more comfortable," Wie said. "Every time you do a big overhaul of anything, it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight."

Wie added that she was "getting more comfortable with the swing changes" each day.

"Just with everything in general, I'm feeling healthier and healthier," she said. "My hip felt better (at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship two weeks ago, where she missed the cut) than it has been the past couple of weeks. And I think I'm taking it day-by-day and taking it slowly."

Wie was also taking motivation from the U.S. Women’s World Cup team’s win in Sunday night’s final match as well as the buzz surrounding this week’s women’s national championship.

"It was pretty amazing. I was pretty stoked," Wie said about watching the soccer finals and trading text messages with some of her 2015 U.S. Solheim Cup teammates. "Scoring two goals in the first 17 minutes, that was pretty incredible. I remember we had a couple of group texts going with our Solheim team … We definitely looked to them for inspiration and motivation. And it’s pretty cool. It definitely gave me goose bumps."

Wie hopes to create similar exhilaration for the hordes of fans already on-site at Lancaster CC.

"I've heard that we've already broken the ticket sales from this year," Wie said. "I was amazed by how many people came out to watch yesterday. It's the most people I've ever seen on a golf course on a Monday of a tournament. It's pretty exciting."

Wie will put her new swing to the test starting Thursday at 7:51 a.m. ET off tee No. 1 with reigning Women’s British Open champ Mo Martin and amateur Kristen Gillman.

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