WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — The booming drives were there, but more often than not, Michelle Wie didn’t know where they were going in her first round on the LPGA Tour since February.
The best scores, as usual, belonged to just about everyone else — a course record-tying 63 by Scotland’s Mhairi McKay, and a potential battle looming between Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam in the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill.
Once the most heralded young player in the women’s game, Wie managed just one birdie in a zig-zagging 4-over 75 on a soggy day, even as the River Course yielded its fourth 8-under 63 in six years, 64s to Sorenstam and Sun Young Yoo, and 65s to Ochoa and Diana D’Alessio.
Six others were three off the pace, and there were eight more four behind.
While 90 players in the field of 144 shot par or better, Wie was lucky to get off as easily as she did. She pulled her drive on the par-5 seventh, and only a tree kept it from flying out of bounds. She hit into the greenside rough on the par-3 13th, and it kicked onto the green. She hit her drive way right on the wide open par-4 14th, and another tree knocked it down.
Still, she took the half-full approach to her first round on tour since the Fields Open in Hawaii, where she made the cut but finished in a tie for last, 20 strokes off the pace.
“I felt like I was hitting the ball pretty well,” she said, considering the rust. “There were a couple of shots here and there where I felt like if I play a couple more tournaments or had more experience under my belt, it would come out a little differently. But, like I said, I’m hitting the ball solid. I just have to work out a couple of other things for tomorrow.”
Wie could have at least been encouraged by her putting. She had only two reasonable birdie putts all day, making a 5-footer and missing from 15 feet, but several times made par-saving putts from 3-5 feet. Without many birdie chances, that was about as good as it got.
“I just think it’s going to come around anytime,” Wie insisted. “I’m not far off.”
She’ll have to get there fast to stick around for the weekend, especially with top-ranked Ochoa and No. 2 Sorenstam off to fast starts in a tournament neither has won.
Sorenstam, coming off a playoff victory over Paula Creamer two weeks ago in the Stanford International Pro-Am, had seven birdies in a bogey-free round.
“I haven’t shot this low all year, so it feels good to get off to a good start here, a place that I really like a lot and haven’t played so well,” she said.
“Very solid. Lots of fairways, lots of greens. Just good golf.”
Sorenstam played with Ochoa and defending champion Suzann Pettersen (71) and was 4 under through eight holes, the kind of start that she hopes will lead to big things.
“I think my game fits this course,” she said of the 6,315-yard layout, where her best finish is sixth. “Why I haven’t played well here in the past, I’m not really sure.”
Ochoa, a three-time runner-up here, had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys in her first event since her winning streak was halted at four last weekend. She moved into a tie for third with D’Alessio with three consecutive birdies on the back nine, just before a par-par finish.
Early morning rain and intermittent drizzle made scoring necessary, she said.
“You got to take advantage of that,” she said.
Playing with Sorenstam only highlighted the need to attack flags, she said.
“It keeps you motivated to play good and make birdies,” she said.
McKay avoided trouble all day in a bogey-free 63, and even turned her only errant tee shot of the day into a birdie. It came at the par-4 14th, where her drive came to rest under a tree, but she hit a punch 6-iron that skidded up onto the green, 20 feet from the cup.
She made that putt, and several others, thanks to a tip from her brother, who caddied for her last weekend at the Scottish Open and thought she was standing up too soon on putts.
“Definitely helped me,” she said.
Yoo played in the afternoon, and closed with four consecutive birdies.
“I didn’t realize I could be like this, so I really feel good,” she said.
D’Alessio played with Wie, and came up with the shot of the day — a 7-iron from 134 yards out on the par-4 16th that landed about 5 feet short of the hole, hopped and rolled in.
“My caddie yelled, ‘Go in’ and it did,” she said. “She needs to do that more often.”
Besides the eagle, she had five birdies and two bogeys.
While she was celebrating the shot, Wie was walking toward the green, where she followed a pulled drive with a shot that went far right into greenside rough. From there, she chipped across the green onto the fringe, pounding her wedge in frustration, and then two-putted.
The 18-year-old got high marks for composure from her playing partner.
“She kept herself very composed, which was good to see,” D’Alessio said.