GUADALAJARA // Immediately after tapping in to win her first LPGA Tour title and fulfil a decade of promise, Michelle Wie pulled the ball from the 18th hole, looked up to the sky and let out a big sigh of relief. After all the near misses, after all the expectations, her long wait finally came to an end on Sunday.
"It's definitely off by my back," she said. "I think that hopefully life will be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do." Wie closed with a three-under 69 for a two-stroke victory over Paula Creamer in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She finished off the victory in style, hitting a greenside bunker shot within a foot of the final hole to set up a birdie. Solheim Cup teammates Morgan Pressel and Creamer sprayed drinks over Wie on the 18th green after the winning putt. "Just seeing them come out for me, it was a great feeling," Wie said. Her parents, father BJ and mother Bo, were there, too, for an embrace.
"We have been through a lot as a family, and it's just so great that they are here to share my highs and to keep me up from the lows, as well," said the 20-year-old. The win earned her US$220,000 (Dh808,000) to push her season winnings to just over $900,000. The win came in her 65th LPGA Tour event - she had finished second six times. Wie won the 2003 USGA Women's Amateur Public Links, her only significant victory until Sunday.
"Right now it feels fantastic. It's a great year. I went through some ups and downs And obviously this tournament is the icing on the cake," she said. Pressel (67), Jiyai Shin (71) and Cristie Kerr (72) were three behind. Wie finished at 13-under after starting the day at the Guadalajara Country Club tied for the lead with Kerr at 10-under. She first qualified for a USGA event at age 10 and played an LPGA event when she was 12.
Wie joined the LPGA this season and has begun to show the form that has made her arguably the biggest attraction in women's golf. She had a few shaky moments but, finally, was steadier down the stretch than her rivals. "I gave it a chance and Michelle played great," said Creamer, who is winless this year after struglging with various injuries. The LPGA, hurt by economic problems and the forced resignation of its commissioner, needed this as much as Wie did.
"Literally, when Michelle Wie is atop the leaderboard, it's like night and day and that's star power," said LPGA spokesman David Higdon. "That's all it is. This is somebody people want to follow. You see it in her presence, the way she walks around. The way people talk to her." Wie played PGA Tour events against the men when she was 14. She was criticised for not focusing on women's events. She turned professional in 2005 before even finishing high school and, at 16, she was poised to become the first woman to qualify for the men's US Open before her putter failed her.
Shortly after that she began to lose confidence and the biggest attraction in women's golf went into a long, painful slump that was made worse by a wrist injury that ruined her 2007 season. She has slowly worked her way back, earning her LPGA card for this season, gaining credibility with players and emerging as a star on this year's Solheim Cup, going unbeaten in four matches. "It just taught me so much about handling that situation," Wie said. "And actually, I wore my Solheim shoes today. So I felt pretty lucky." * AP