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If anyone knows how humbling golf can be, it is Michelle Wie.
Wie's career always has been a roller-coaster ride, with some plunging downs, but it is only three weeks since her most glorious high. Winning the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst followed a steady ascent since graduating from Stanford to becoming a regular LPGA Tour winner.
The big Wiesy finally had become a big deal. Making an early exit from the next major championship, the Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale, is hardly ideal.
It was one of those weeks where I got off on the wrong foot and never felt comfortable. I was always just a little too far left or too far right. I kept getting into difficult positions.” -- Michelle Wie
But missing the cut in her first appearance as an elite champion is something the tall Hawaiian can take in stride. "It really sucks," she said. "But it is good motivation to look at what I can improve in my game."
Wie followed her opening 75 with a 78 on Friday -- her worst two rounds of the year -- that left her at 9 over par. That was 15 strokes behind the surprise leader, Mo Martin, and also three too many to qualify for the weekend.
It was the first time Wie had missed a cut since last August. This season, her previous 14 events had yielded 10 top-10 finishes, including two wins.
So where did this week come from?
"It was one of those weeks where I got off on the wrong foot and never felt comfortable," Wie said. "I was always just a little too far left or too far right. I kept getting into difficult positions."
Knowing the importance of avoiding the pot bunkers that litter the fairways, Wie played a conservative strategy off the tee and found trouble elsewhere instead.
"You can always look back with hindsight and go 'I should have done this, or I should have done that' -- I would be here all day thinking about that. I just didn't hit the shots I needed to, and I need to work on that.
"I got into the mindset of just trying to make pars instead of trying to make birdies. Bogeys are going to happen here, but I didn't make the birdies I usually do."
|While stellar putting helped her to the U.S. Women's Open title, Michelle Wie was constantly under pressure Friday facing par putts.|
Finding herself constantly under pressure putting for pars, Wie's work on the greens paled in comparison to her stellar blade work at Pinehurst. Any fears that her bent-over, tabletop putting style would suffer in the wind of a seaside links were unfounded, since the wind had not been a factor for the first two days.
But there are parts of Birkdale you do not visit unless you're a naturalist keen on the wide variety of flora and rare wildlife such as the natterjack toad. Or Arnold Palmer.
In the 1961 Open Championship, Palmer brought his unique brand of never-give-in, try-anything-once golf to Britain. On the final day, he found a horrid spot in a bush on the 15th hole but, undaunted as ever, thrashed away with abandon, got the ball on the green and went on to lift the Claret Jug.
When Wie was off-line with a 2-iron on what is now the 16th hole, a search party eventually found her ball in the bush near the plaque that commemorates Palmer's blow, which takes pride of place in the folklore of the course.
"I was actually hoping for a free drop from the plaque," Wie said, "but it was not close enough."
Wie had to take a penalty drop and ended up with a double-bogey 6. At 6 over par teeing off on 16, she was still in position to squeak into the weekend, and with two par-5s still to come should have been able to make sure of it. But after the double-bogey at 16, she bogeyed the 17th and three-putted at the last for a par.
Asked about not taking advantage of the par-5s, she said: "I didn't take advantage of any of the holes.''
As a 15-year-old amateur in 2005, Wie finished third at Birkdale, and it remains a favorite place in her at-times tumultuous career.
"I'm extremely disappointed how I played," she said. "It's just the fact that I won't be able to play this weekend. I love this golf course, and I really love links golf. It's just really sad that my week got cut short."
Martin, a 31-year-old from California, is certainly falling in love with Birkdale herself. "It's definitely in my top five," she said.
Ranked 99th in the world, she shot her second consecutive 69 and took a three-stroke lead over Beatriz Recari and So Yeon Ryu.
"I don't hit it particularly long, but I'm capitalizing on my accuracy," she added. "I've got a game plan, and I'm executing it well."
For Martin, leading going into the weekend of a major championship is a new experience. "I'll be nervous for sure, but I'll embrace that."
For Wie, missing a cut at a major was certainly a surprise, one she will endeavor to make her even stronger.