Schoolgirl tackles the men on PGA Tour

Big-hitting schoolgirl Michelle Wie will hope to take advantage of some notable absences this week as she takes on the men of the PGA Tour in the John Deere Classic.

The 15-year-old amateur will make her third PGA Tour start when the $4-million tournament starts on Thursday at the TPC at Deere Run.

Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Wie will try to make the cut in a PGA event for the first time, and it may be her best chance yet.

At 6 545m, the course is long but not impossible for the long-hitting Hawaiian. Wide fairways will also work in her favour, as will the absence of the tour’s big names.

“I feel like it’s not long at all in any aspects, and I feel very comfortable here,” Wie said. “The fairways are pretty generous and I feel like it’s a fair golf course.
I feel pretty good.”

Ranked 10th in the world, David Toms is in the field and posted his first career tour victory in 1997 when the event was called the Quad Cities Classic. Toms has one win to his credit this season, the Match Play Championship, and is fourth on the money list behind only Fiji’s Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Singh, Woods and Mickelson are not entered, choosing to take the week off or play overseas in preparation for the British Open next week at St Andrews.

Wie has played well this season on the LPGA Tour. She finished second to Annika Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship and was tied for the lead after three rounds of the United States Open before finishing tied for 23rd.

“I feel pretty good about my game, and hopefully it will be good for the rest of the week,” Wie said. “Of course, I have to play well to make the cut. But I think if I focus on just making the cut, then it’ll be harder to do. I just have a score in mind I want to shoot.”

Wie will not have the comfort of playing at home on a course she knows, as she did at the Sony Open the past two years, but not everyone thinks that will be a problem.

“I think she can maybe be in contention. I don’t think there’s any doubt,” said Zach Johnson, who is entered this week and serves on the tournament’s board of directors. “She’s good. I mean, she’s a phenom.

“I think she can make the cut, yes. I think she can be in contention if she plays really well.”

Defending champion Mark Hensby of Australia is back in the field, as is reigning British Open champion Todd Hamilton. Last year, Hensby entered the final round trailing by four shots but shot a 66 to get into a play-off with John Morgan that he won on the second hole.

Though he won the event last year, Hensby knows he’s not the main draw this time around.

“Michelle Wie is the story this week and that’s fine,” Hensby said. “It’s something that, every week, if Tiger is playing, it doesn’t matter if you’re the defending champ or not. That’s just the way golf is, and that’s just the way it is.”

A trip to St Andrews also is on the line this week as the top finisher not already exempt for the season’s third major will earn an invitation.—Sapa-AFP

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