Wednesday, February 22, 2006

LPGA Welcomes Michelle Wie to Fields Open

Michelle WieThe best of the best on the LPGA Tour aim for both the second win of the season as well as amassing more points to gain exemption into the final hurrah of 2006, the ADT Championship.

Michelle Wie will use her first of eight exemptions this week on her home turf in Hawaii. The 16-year-old will most certainly be the youngest and most popular golfer in the field with a close second belonging to her nemesis Morgan Pressel.

Pressel soundly defeated Wie several years ago in match play format at the AJGA Championships and recently has been outspoken about Wie's easy entrance into LPGA tournaments through exemption instead of by earning her spot.

Expect sparks to fly at this inaugural event. At the Fields Open it's not all about the trophy, points or even the share of a big $1.1 million purse. This week it's personal.

Only a hop, skip and jump from Turtle Bay Resort, Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Oahu is the second stop on the LPGA Tour. For over a week the ladies have been sunning themselves during their off-time but now it's back to business.

Although most of the same ladies have made the short journey this week there is another amongst them making her 2006 debut who has single-handedly changed the face of women's golf. Michelle Wie's long flowing swing has been compared to Ernie Els, earning her the name "The Big Wiesy" among players on the PGA Tour. Hot debates on the internet have created a whirlwind of controversy contending that Wie should first play golf on the LPGA before teeing it up with the men of the PGA Tour for the experience.

The time is at hand for Wiesy to strut her stuff. Michelle is ready to show that she can certainly compete against the best of the LPGA and hopefully put a victory under her belt. Attempting to stop her will be 132 women, all believing that they are as good or better golfers than Wie and that she is just lucky in her business ventures.

Morgan Pressel has already defeated Wie, albeit several years ago and has even one-upped Wie as recently as at last year's US Women's Open, sharing second place with Brittany Lang after failing to win at the 18th hole against a lucky sand save by Birdie Kim.

The stakes are higher this year as Wie has to prove she is worth the millions of sponsorship dollars thrust upon her. Pressure is mounting for the 16-year-old to perform at a higher level given her attempts to make the cut at several Sony Open's on the PGA Tour. Maturity, or the lack thereof, will show itself this week as a few of the top performers are barely out of high school.

From top: Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Brittany Lang all appear this weekend at the Fields Open.

Take for example last year's Rolex Rookie of the Year Paula Creamer who struggled last week at the SBS Open. The 19-year-old from Bradenton, Florida has the ability to make it to the top of the money list. She finished in second place last year, just beneath Annika Sorenstam in the standings but could not get a top-ten last week. Still, she is a top choice to win this week, and she rarely pouts.

Natalie Gulbis is a bit older than the others at 23-years-old. She is a grinder and with the assistance of swing coach Butch Harmon may well 2006 her breakout year.

Joo Mi Kim, unlikely winner at last week's SBS Open will try to make it two-for-two this week but Lorena Ochoa's playoff attempts have not gone unnoticed. Last year Ochoa quietly climbed the official money list despite a few snowman blips and chokes along the way especially when facing off against Annika Sorenstam at the Mastercard Championship. Speaking of the Mastercard, Sorenstam will wait until this event to make her 2006 debut, so fans of Annika please be patient!

And I'm still waiting for Q-School champion Ai Miyazato to garner a top-ten for herself. She has played in the Women's World Cup of Golf early this season and now at the SBS Open with mediocre results. I'm betting that once she starts winning, Miyazato will be unstoppable. But my opinion here doesn't really matter. Ai haw a huge following out in Japan and is as popular as Tiger Woods! Between her sponsorships and followings, Miyazato needs a win desperately!

Expect to see regulars Laura Davies, Dorothy Delasin, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr and Christina Kim grinding it out this week as well. There will also be a huge Asian contingency at this event. Eight sponsors exemptions have been given out, all to Asians.

What are the odds that an Asian will win this weekend?
Will Morgan Pressel eat her words about Michelle Wie?

Find out the answers to these burning questions this weekend.

The Golf Channel will air the Fields Open on February 23-25th from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. (EST). If you are a true golf fanatic, you surely don't want to miss this spectacular 54-hole event!

Photo Credit: © AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara.
Photo Credit: © AP.

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