KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Michelle Wie couldn’t have picked a better place to try to turn around her game – and her career.
Wie made her much-anticipated debut as a full-fledged LPGA Tour member, birdieing her final three holes for a 6-under 66 in the season-opening SBS Open.
“I had a couple of shaky driver shots, but overall I played pretty solid,” Wie said.
The 19-year-old Wie trailed leader Angela Stanford by a stroke and was tied with rookie of the year and second-ranked Yani Tseng heading into Friday’s second round. South Korea’s Kyeong Bae had a 67, and Japan’s Momoko Ueda shot a 68. Wie tees of at 12:20 Eastern on Friday.
Wie looked comfortable playing in front of the largest gallery and on her home island of Oahu.
“There were so many familiar faces out there,” she said. “Just to see them rooting me on. Just to know they’ve been rooting me on for the last how many years. I just felt really comfortable, really grateful and happy to see all of them.”
It was her first U.S. start since July when she was disqualified from the State Farm Classic after opening with a 67. She earned her tour card in December with a seventh-place tie at Q-school.
Now Wie feels she belongs.
“You feel like you’re more, not accepted, but you’re more part of something,” she said. “It’s a different feeling, like you’re part of something, part of an association, part of a legacy.
“So I guess that feels a little bit different, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same.”
Turtle Bay has always been good to Wie, who is looking for a new beginning.
Wie played the first SBS in 2005 as a 15-year-old amateur and tied for second, two strokes behind winner Jennifer Rosales. Wie was the lone amateur in the field and the only player to shoot under par for three rounds.
It also was at Turtle Bay in 2006 that she became the first female player to win a local qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open.
“I guess I did have local knowledge since I grew up here and stuff, but I haven’t played in Hawaii in a really long time,” Wie said. “But I guess the thing I felt really comfortable was the fact that I was playing in front of a home crowd.”
She also finally seems to have her health and confidence back, showing flashes of the player in year’s past that had limitless potential and dazzled the golf world with her big swing.
Wie said the confidence returned when her wrists stopped hurting last year.
“Every time I hit a good shot, I gained confidence a little bit. And I just realized you don’t gain confidence overnight,” she said. “It’s definitely a work in progress.”
Wie closed the first round with three straight birdies. More than the run of birdies, what defined her round was how she was able to immediately bounce back after a bogey with a birdie.
She crawled up the leaderboard with consecutive birdies, including a curling 20-footer on No. 9, to make the turn at 3 under.
Wie lost a stroke on the par-4 11th when her tee shot sailed left and found the heavy rough and her 8-footer for par hung on the lip. But she quickly recovered on the next hole after nearly chipping in for eagle.
Wie is one of the headliners in a remarkable rookie class. But she isn’t the typical rookie. She already has millions in the bank and is making her 49th start on the LPGA Tour, where she qualified for her first event at age 12 and played in the final group of an LPGA major at age 13.
Stanford, meanwhile, took advantage of the calm morning conditions. She birdied the first two holes and made the turn at 4 under. She birdied two of her final three holes for the outright lead.
The 31-year-old Stanford, ranked No. 8 in the world, is coming off a career-best season where she won two events, broke $1 million for the first time and finished ninth on the money list. The former TCU star had six of her 10 top-10 finishes in the final six events, including wins at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic and Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She also finished sixth in the season-ending ADT Championship.
Tseng, who just turned 20 last month, is hoping for a big sophomore season after winning the LPGA Championship and recording five runner-up finishes en route to rookie of the year honors.
Last year, she began the year ranked 133rd in the world. This year, she’s No. 2 and has her sights set on the top-ranked Ochoa.