KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — On the verge of her first LPGA Tour title and a storybook start to her rookie year, all Michelle Wie had to do was hang on for eight more holes.
The 19-year-old Wie could taste victory as she was cheered on by a huge hometown crowd. Anxious to hold her first trophy and put two forgettable years behind her, she stepped onto the 11th tee box with a 3-wood and a three-stroke lead.
Angela Stanford had serious doubts whether she could catch Wie.
“She was going to need to make a mistake,” said Stanford, who had gone bogey-par save-bogey in the three previous holes.
That’s when Wie’s grasp on the trophy slipped, and Stanford snatched it away.
Stanford went on to spoil Wie’s bid for a victory in her first start as an LPGA Tour member, overcoming a three-stroke deficit to win the season-opening SBS Open by three shots Saturday.
Stanford closed with a 2-under 70 for a 10-under 206 total at wind-swept Turtle Bay, giving the Texan her fourth career win and third in seven starts. Wie had a 73 for her second straight runner-up finish in the tournament.
After battling with Stanford all weekend, Wie returns to college at Stanford where she’s taking Korean drama, humanities, engineering and writing. She has homework to turn in and a makeup midterm to contend with Wednesday.
As for golf, Wie said she’s not certain when her next start will be.
For any other rookie, it would’ve been a celebration. For Wie, there was disappointment, as she is forced to continue her pursuit of her elusive first title.
“Obviously, it’s not like I want to be second place all the time,” Wie said. “But I think it was a good start. I played solidly. It’s just going to motivate me to work harder to go to the next level.”
Wie, who hasn’t won since claiming the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championships at age 13, has plenty of time to fill her shelves with trophies. But not many thought she would still be searching for her first one after 49 LPGA starts over seven years.
This is, after all, the phenom who captivated the golf world by qualifying for an LPGA event at age 12, played in the final group of an LPGA major in eighth grade and at age 14 shot a 68 in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open to miss the cut by a stroke.
It appears, however, she’s getting closer to winning.
Since she was disqualified from the State Farm Classic for not signing her card and missing the cut in the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open, Wie has finished tied for 12th at the Canadian Women’s Open and earned her tour card in December with a seventh-place tie at Q-school.
At Turtle Bay, Wie went toe-to-toe with the hottest player on the LGPA Tour.
In the final six events of 2008, the eighth-ranked Stanford won twice and finished no lower than tied for sixth. The 31-year-old Stanford said it’s just a matter of time before Wie wins.
“She’s got all the shots,” she said. “Once she figures things out, she is going to be just fine.”
Wie’s finish and $108,332 paycheck were the best since the 2006 Evian Ladies Masters, where she tied for second and earned $255,333. Wie played the first SBS in 2005 as a 15-year-old amateur and tied for second.
“Just missing the trophy by a little bit is going to motivate me to work even harder for the next one,” she said.
While Wie may be the richest, Wie is no longer the youngest around. And the novelty of a 6-foot teenage girl with a majestic swing that could one day compete on the PGA Tour is fading.
However, Wie remains one of the LPGA’s biggest attractions.
At Turtle Bay, SBS chairman Yoon Se-young had his pick of players to play with in the pro-am. They ranged from Paula Creamer to one of the many stars from his native South Korea. He chose Wie.
The SBS had its largest galleries in its five-year history this weekend, much bigger than when Annika Sorenstam won last year. One of the spectators following Wie was a woman wearing a T-shirt that read: “Wie Believe.”
And Wie does believe, and proved she belongs. However, she failed to eliminate lingering questions about her ability to finish.
Her critical double bogey on the par-4 11th gave Stanford the opening she needed.
Wie flubbed her tee shot into the right marsh and hit a poor chip shot for a 7. Her three-stroke lead disappeared to a just stroke, which also quickly vanished.
After the tournament, Wie insisted the double bogey didn’t really affect her. Everyone, including Stanford, knew better.
“That front nine, she didn’t make a mistake. She was doing everything she needed to do to win,” Stanford said. “When she made the mistake on 11, she didn’t rebound. … You could see her youth in that she didn’t rebound as fast as she could have, I think.”
Stanford then took Wie to school.
The veteran birdied three straight holes to take a two-stroke lead over Wie with three holes to play.
Wie had a chance to cut into Stanford’s lead, but lipped out a 3 1/2-foot birdie putt on No. 16 and unraveled for a bogey on the next hole by hitting into the sand twice.
“It’s just a learning process,” Stanford said. “And I hope that she uses what happened on 11 to her advantage. I hope when she gets in that position again, she handles it differently. I think she will.”
With Wie’s glass half-full approach, she’s only taking away positives. That could be because she’s had so many negatives during the past two years, struggling with wrist injuries, shattered confidence and questionable decisions.
“Every good shot that I hit, I’m putting in the positive memory bank and gaining confidence a little bit by little bit,” she said.