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The smile is back for Big Wiesy

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    Michelle Wie has gone from the-little-girl-who-could to big girl with a lot to smile about these days. Above, she’s shown celebrating her victory at the Canadian Women’s Open golf tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sunday.
    Michelle Wie got drenched with champagne from her good friend, Christina Kim, after Wie’s victory.
    Michelle Wie of the United States celebrates her victory after the final round of the Canadian Women's Open golf tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. Wie won with a final score of 12-under par.

For those here who have embraced Michelle Wie and followed her frenetic golf career, it wasn’t the win at the CN Canadian Women’s Open that was so special Sunday. Just as it wasn’t the wins last year at Guadalajara or Solheim Cup.

It was the look of utter joy that returned to Wie’s face. It brought back memories of an 11-year-old yet to grow into her gangly body and gifted game, whose braces-filled smile and sincerely irreverent answers were a charming chaser to her grown-up golf.

When the Punahou graduate drained three straight birdies on the back nine to bury the competition Sunday in Winnipeg, the huge smile and sparkle in her eyes came back.

The long birdie putt at No. 13 brought confidence, and a grin. She followed with another birdie, then chipped in from an "actually quite horrible" lie on the 15th. She sensed the ball would fall before it actually happened, just as she had when she holed out from a bunker in a first-round 65.

"Walking down 18 with that (three-shot) lead and having a 12-foot putt … ," Wie said. "That was so awesome."

Her smile grew larger and her eyes twinkled, just as they had at Olomana, Ala Wai and so many other golf stops the Hawaii prodigy made early on. The joyful look has made only cameo appearances the last few years. The Big Wiesy’s charmingly goofy personality matured into something more mundane for the public as the pressure of a multimillion dollar career and infinite expectations piled on the last decade.

Three months from her 21st birthday now, she is about to start her self-described "redshirt senior" year at Stanford. By taking up to 20 units a trimester, she can get her degree by 2012 despite splitting time almost equally between school and the LPGA tour. As an academic bonus, school allows her sore back, which she calls "nothing that serious," time to rest.

She is now a young woman — "She’s growing up," was how runner-up Jiyai Shin put it — but sometimes she still lets those on the outside see into the mind of that precocious child. The gifted one who got through Punahou and into Stanford after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at 13, missing the cut at a PGA Tour event by a shot at 14 and reaching the quarterfinals of the (men’s) U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at 15.

It was a typically weird Wiesy week in Winnipeg. She had a hole-in-one the first day and seven "2’s" on her four scorecards. She was first in driving distance at 290 yards, hit just 24 fairways, but found 54 greens in regulation.

Her celebration consisted of good buddy Christina Kim soaking her with most of a bottle of champagne while chasing her around the 18th green. And, Wie even made the locals laugh when she compared Winnipeg’s wicked mosquitoes favorably to Hawaii’s "flying cockroaches."

As is her custom, there was no clue this win was coming. Her first win as a professional came at last November’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational, a limited-field event. It was three months after her huge Solheim Cup success and two months after she missed the cut for the only time in her rookie year — at the CN Canadian Women’s Open.

This season she had just three top 10 finishes before last week, her best finish a third.

"I played a lot better than what my scores had shown, so it was really rough the last couple months," Wie said. "I was hitting the ball really good and just not scoring. The floodgates opened this week."

In the final round, with her "Sunday red lips thing" going, she stared down a few of the finest players at one of the LPGA’s most prestigious events. She was most proud of going wire to wire.

"From the beginning it just felt like a good week," Wie said Sunday. "But then yesterday I, you know, struggled a little bit. But you know, I was just kind of going out there and really focusing and really believing in myself, and it meant a lot to me."

She will head into next week’s $2 million P&G NW Arkansas Championship — her last event before Stanford starts Sept. 20 — ranked seventh in the world, again.

Wie’s life has taken yet another dramatic turn. The Golf Channel started referring to her as "The Franchise" again. Judy Rankin called her "an astounding talent" and characterized her swing out of the rough near the end Sunday as "a thing of beauty."

Apparently Wiesy once again holds the future of the LPGA in her 20-year-old hands, and she is smiling. In Hawaii, the latter means much more than the former.


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