Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wie (66) takes lead for first time in nearly 3 years

Michelle Wie’s long, hard climb has her back atop a leaderboard again.

With a 6-under-par 66 Thursday, Wie took the first-round lead at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. It’s the first time she has led an LPGA event in almost three years, since she led after the second round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Wie is one shot ahead of five major championship winners: Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, Anna Nordqvist, Brooke Henderson and Mo Martin.

“It’s a marathon this week,” Wie said. “It’s not a sprint, but I have to say I’m very proud of where I’ve positioned myself. Hopefully, the next three days I can keep it going, keep it rolling and keep having fun.”

Wie abandoned the claw putting grip she used at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in her last start, but she hasn’t gone back to the “table-top” posture. She is still putting with a more upright posture, but with a conventional grip.

“Michelle is in a really good place mentally,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “This is exciting for her. Her ball striking has been good for a while now, and she’s holing a lot of putts.

“A player like Michelle, if she can get her confidence going, there’s no telling what she can do.”

Wie hit 11 of 14 fairways Thursday and 17 of 18 greens in regulation.

“It’s the first time in a long time she’s really sticking to a swing and not deviated from it,” Leadbetter said. “If you look at her driving stats, they’ve been really good recently.”

It’s early, but Wie is finding the fairway off the tee more than 81 percent of the time this year. Leadbetter said Wie has committed to a fade as her stock shot, and it’s paying dividends with more consistent ball striking.

Wie sought out Leadbetter at the Honda Classic last week, and they met again later in the week at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter.

“I kind of stole him away for a little bit,” Wie said. “I begged him to come over and watch me putt. We worked on it quite a bit.”

Wie’s putter was hot in Singapore. She made eight birdies against two bogeys.

Wie is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption. She slumped to 105th on the LPGA money list last year, outside the top 100 who secure full tour privileges. She’s competing out of category 3 of LPGA priority list, a category that includes tour members who won a major championship over the last five years. Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014, the last of her four LPGA titles.

“It’s always exciting to be on the top of the leaderboard or near the top of the leaderboard,” Wie said. “I want to just keep building, and, hopefully, the next three days I can take it day by day, hole-by-hole, shot by shot and play as hard as I can.”


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