Wednesday, June 03, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Given the opportunity at hand, Michelle Wie wasn't thinking about the major that lies ahead.

No sense in that, considering she's seeking her first LPGA Tour victory. Now would be a good time to bust through. Wie has another chance at the State Farm Classic against a loaded field this weekend, and if she gets it, she'll have all the momentum she needs heading into the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

"I just even forgot that McDonald's is next week," Wie said. "I'm just focusing on this week. ... You can't control the future. You can't control the past. What you do now is most important. I'm learning that. I'm trying to stay in the present."

The present has her staring at a field boasting nine of the top 10 - and 49 of the top 50 - money winners on a lengthened course at Panther Creek that figures to play more like those at majors. Only top-ranked Lorena Ochoa is missing.

In the past, some top players skipped Springfield, but with a sagging economy and a favorable schedule change, the State Farm has a high profile and the talent to match.

Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Brittany Lincicome is here as is the woman she beat - 2007 U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr, the current money leader. So are 2008 British Open winner Jiyai Shin and Rookie of the Year Yani Tseng, the runner-up last year. Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Karrie Webb, Natalie Gulbis and, of course, Wie are here, too.

Why?

Five events got wiped out because of sponsorship withdrawals, meaning there are more breaks this year - including one last week. That and the scheduling switch gave the State Farm a big boost.

"It's important to play, and I think it's very important to come to this event," said Creamer, who finally seems to be getting over a six-month stomach ailment. "I chose to come here. I feel like it's necessary to prepare for other events as well."

Previously played the first weekend in September, it was moved to mid-July last year. Now, it's followed by the season's second major instead of an event in France as it was in 2008, and suddenly, Central Illinois is an attractive destination for the world's top golfers.

"We have a better field than we may end up having at some of the three remaining majors we have this year," said Christina Kim, the runner-up here two years ago. "We've got the best players in the world representing a multitude of countries. We've got a golf course that is an absolute bear."

She called it a "great prep course" for Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, Md., next week.

Panther Creek was lengthened from 6,608 yards to 6,746, with the par-5 13th and par-4 15th each about 40 yards longer. The greens are faster, although Wednesday's rain might slow them, and the rough is thicker, so the scores might be higher.

The runner-up two years ago, Kim shot 16 under and finished a stroke off the lead.

Last year, Ji Young Oh of South Korea tapped in a 6-inch putt to beat Tseng in a playoff for her first tour victory and was so overwhelmed afterward that she needed an interpreter to talk to reporters, even though she had spoken English for much of the tournament. It was a wild finish to a dramatic weekend that saw Wie leave the course an emotional wreck following the third round even though she had fired a 5-under 67 that had her one stroke off the lead.

The reason?

She failed to sign her scorecard a day earlier.

Wie called it a "hard lesson learned" this week and said she was looking forward to the weekend. More importantly, she wants her first win.

With five second-place finishes, including one in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay this year, she's had some close calls. Now, she wants more. Kim believes it's only a matter of time before Wie gets it.

"I have no doubt in my mind, absolutely," Kim said. "I've known her for a number of years. She's gone through a lot of things in her life in a personal sense as well as in an athletic sense. ... A lot of people fail to realize she's 19 1/2. If people doubt her, I'm not going to say (anything), but I don't doubt her."

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