DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Michelle Wie is in the final group at a golf tournament for the first in more than two years, this time without the pressure of trying to win her first tournament as a pro.
Wie saved par on three of her last four holes Saturday for a 4-under 68 that left her one shot behind former NCAA champion Stacy Lewis at the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament, where the only goal is to leave LPGA headquarters with a full-time job. (She struggled early on Sunday. Live scoring updates are here.)
Better than being in second place, Wie was nine shots clear of the cutoff for the top 20 players to earn their cards.
Lewis hit a delicate pitch over the bunker to an elevated green for a tap-in birdie on the par-5 16th, sending her to a 5-under 67 and the lead at 15-under 273.
Wie went bunker-to-bunker on the 15th and escaped with par, made birdie from the greenside bunker on the 16th, hit a tough chip down the slope to save par on the 17th and closed out her round with another tough bunker save on the 18th to finish at 14-under 274.
Amy Yang of South Korea, who has won on four tours around the world, shot a 67 and was at 275.
They will be in the final group at the easier Champions course, which is being used for the last round this year because it accommodates a small grandstand behind the 18th green and allows for more movement of spectators.
There usually aren’t any spectators at Q-school except for family and friends, yet Wie has drawn out fans who are curious to see a 19-year-old from Hawaii who has been playing LPGA Tour events since she was 12.
Wie played in the final group of a major when she was 13, made a strong bid at qualifying for the U.S. Open when she was 16 and then suffered through a horrendous year of injuries, shattered confidence and high scores until pulling herself out of a rut.
Now, the part-time Stanford student is one round away from LPGA membership.
Wie’s only victory on the mainland came 30 minutes down the road at Ocean Hammock, where she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links after she had just finished the eighth grade.
That was the one thing she failed to do while taking sponsor’s exemptions and earning worldwide fame in golf – win a tournament. She doesn’t have to at Q-school, as long as she finishes in the top 20.
No trophy will be awarded Sunday, although Lewis plans to play as if that were the case.
“I want to win,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t be terribly upset if I didn’t, but that’s why I came here.”
Lewis, who won an NCAA title while at Arkansas, wouldn’t be at Q-school except for an archaic LPGA policy that did not count her earnings from a tie for third at the U.S. Women’s Open, the biggest event on the LPGA Tour schedule. That was her first tournament as a pro, and she played in the final group at Interlachen.
“There was more pressure at the Open,” Lewis said. “I’ve felt really comfortable here all week.”
It won’t bother her playing with Wie, especially after beating her by one shot when they were in the same group Friday.
“She’s a good player,” Lewis said. “But it’s not like she’s a step above everybody else.”
Wie gets far more attention than the rest of the field at Q-school – even those already on the LPGA Tour – for six years of headlines, good and bad. She was in Sunday contention at majors four times while still in high school, and twice shot 68 at the Sony Open on the PGA Tour, the lowest score ever by a female competing against men.
And she’s still a draw. Even though only about 200 people were in the gallery, it was more than Lewis saw on the Futures Tour, and more than anyone can ever recall at Q-school. On the sixth tee, a marshal gathered the fans and instructed them where to walk so they wouldn’t cause the round to take longer than it already did (about five hours).
Wie’s only big mistake came on the eighth hole when she hooked her tee shot into the hazard, and had to two-putt up the ridge from 30 feet to escape with bogey. She bounced back with a birdie on the ninth, knocked in an 18-footer after a poor wedge on the 13th, and then showed off a superior wedge game over the closing holes.
The biggest move came from Louise Stahle, who shot a 65 to move into a tie for 12th.
Only the top 70 and ties advanced to the final round, a 72-hole cut that knocked out former Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Patricia Meunier-LeBouc, who shot 73 and missed by one shot.