It happens all the time, but the most recent comparison between Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods was made on TV, during Saturday's second round of the U.S. Women's Open at Newport Country Club. Wie was making one of those miraculous pars, an up-and-down in which she extricated her third shot from a patch of mud, the ball soaring over a hazard to the green of the 359-yard 7th hole. She then canned a roughly 15-foot putt for 4 the hard way, igniting another sonic boomlet of comparisons: Wie is Woods; Wie is Woods; Don't touch that dial, Wie is Woods. The girl is 16, but the "wisdom" on Wie went conventional long ago.
"I hit range balls with Michelle when she was 14 in Hawaii, in Maui, when we were playing the Skins Game," Lee Trevino says. "She played with Jack [Nicklaus] in the pro-am. He and I were having lunch after they'd finished up and I said, 'Jack, how'd she hit it?' He shook his head. I said, 'She out-drive you?' He held up three fingers. And he was bombing it then. He said, 'But that wasn't what impressed me.' He said, 'Lee, she missed a couple of greens, and the ball went down in the tall stuff and she had kind of a downhill, sidehill lie to a short flag up the hill. She hit that ball like she was 50 years old. She popped that thing up about six feet from the hole … 14-year-olds don't do that.' Michelle reminds me of when I saw Tiger at 15, 16. I looked at this kid and thought, he's doing things I haven't seen people do until they get in their 30s."
But Wie is not Woods. Aside from their early maturation, height, close proximity in the roll call, and fat Nike sponsorships, they are almost polar opposites. Let us count the ways:
1.) Wie swings like a big, lithe player, namely Ernie Els; Woods swings it flat, like a little dude, Mark O'Meara.
2.) Wie, in her Sunday blue, not only made the cut at the U.S. Women's Open, she shot 2-over-par 286 to tie for 3rd, two strokes back of Pat Hurst and Annika Sorenstam who competed in an 18-hole Monday playoff. Woods didn't even get a chance to wear his Sunday red, since he didn't make the money rounds at the men's U.S. Open.
3.) Wie breathes to compete in humdrum PGA Tour events like next week's John Deere Classic, where she will try to improve on her performance last year, when she missed the cut by just two strokes. Woods can't be bothered to play in much of anything besides the majors and World Golf Championship events, and wouldn't do the Deere for all the riding mowers in Silvis, Illinois. Wie also will accept a sponsor's invitation to play in the 84 Lumber Classic in September. John Daly has been trying to get Woods to play that tournament for years, to no avail.
4.) Wie says things like, "It's the road you take," as she did at this year's Sony Open in Hawaii, where she made seven birdies in shooting a second-round 68, and failed to make the cut but beat or tied 27 players. Woods says, "Second sucks." Wie, 16, turned professional in October of 2005 and would like to soon begin matriculating at Stanford University. Woods, 30, turned pro in '96 and promptly left Stanford after only two years.
5.) Wie isn't all that tight with Sorenstam but is pals with some of the male Tour pros she's played with, like Els, Tom Lehman and Justin Rose. Woods text-messages his buddy Sorenstam, who would tie his total of 10 major championship titles with a playoff win Monday, but is distant with almost everyone on the PGA Tour.
6.) Wie is knowable off the course. She donated $500,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief the day she turned pro and last week professed her desire to make a difference through her golf, in part through funding children's hospitals. She also confided her hatred of the dress code at the Punahou School in Honolulu, which allows students to wear their own jeans but outfits them in logoed T-shirts. "Punahou," she said in a press conference, "please take away the uniform, please, if you hear this." Woods, despite his philanthropy, video games and TV commercials, is unknowable.
We do know his game. We get exactly how good Woods is, or at least was. We have barely an idea how good Wie is, a fact that was plainly obvious upon the release of the first Women's World Golf Rankings in February. Although she hadn't won a tournament Wie was third, behind Sorenstam and Paula Creamer. Her critics howled. Then Wie moved up to second. Then she dropped off the list altogether; she hadn't played in enough events. Her true ability and potential remain clouded because she plays such a peripatetic schedule, whimsically bouncing from tour to tour. "I don't like being stuck in one place," she said last week.
Where Wie is stuck these days is in a victory drought, the land of the forgotten-by-Monday, top-five finish. Unlike Woods, she is not a great putter, or at least that's the knock, but in Newport she was tied for third in that statistic, averaging 28.25 strokes per round with the flatstick. Her driver was off, as she hit a mere 57 percent of the fairways. Among players who made the cut, only one, Swedish long-baller Karin Sjodin, was less accurate. But Wie's scoring barely suffered until you looked up and realized she had come agonizingly close, yet again, and was smiling and waving to the fans and otherwise fulfilling her fan favorite role. Wie isn't Tiger at all. If she's anyone, she's Phil Mickelson—or Els or Rose or any of the other sweet-swinging David Leadbetter disciples. Or better yet, she's David Duval, circa 1997, playing well enough to win but hamstrung by the extra miscue-waiting, percolating with top-fives and needing only to nab that first title to start collecting them in bulk. Yep, that's Wie, Duval 1997, which means the rest of the LPGA is living on borrowed time. They'd better hope she likes Stanford.
|Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at [email protected]|