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Wie heads to major on a high

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    Michelle Wie has two top-10 finishes in three LPGA starts this year.

CITY OF INDUSTRY, Calif. » After flirting with what would have been a ridiculous rally for nine holes yesterday, Hawaii’s Michelle Wie could not come close to matching Sandra Gal’s magic at the Kia Classic.

Wie shot a 3-under-par 70 at Industry Hills Golf Club, outside of Los Angeles. She went into the final round 10 shots behind Jiyai Shin, ranked No. 2 in the world, and nine back of Gal, the 2003 German Girls Champion who had never won on the LPGA Tour.

Gal and Shin went into the final hole tied at 15 under. Shin, who has won eight times the past two years, hit her approach shot 4 feet above the hole. Gal grabbed her sand wedge and left the ball a foot below the hole.

Shin missed the birdie putt "My heartbeat was too big," the South Korean said to shoot 73. Gal made hers to close with a 71, shooting 16-under 276 for her first victory since an All-America career at Florida.

Wie tied for seventh at 8-under 284, giving her two top-10 finishes in three LPGA starts this year. She has 28 since she began playing on the tour as a 12-year-old in 2002.

"I felt like I shot a lot better than I scored kind of rounds," Wie said. "But overall I had a lot of fun, played as hard as I could. The score is just what it is."

Wie, 21, just finished final exams at Stanford and hadn’t played a competitive round for a month before Kia. But, aside from so many near-misses on the greens, it was hard to tell.

"I actually did a lot of practicing (at school)," she said. "I didn’t study as much as I should have. I think it was good. It takes your mind off of it (school). I still did what I needed to do and got here well-prepared."

She plays the first major of the year next. The Kraft Nabisco Championship starts Thursday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Wie finished in the top 15 her first four years at Kraft before she turned 17.

The Punahou graduate came out in a bright orange shirt and hat yesterday, encouraging someone to tweet that she looked like a highlighter.

She caught everyone’s attention early. A huge gallery met her on the first tee, and before she was announced a marshal asked everyone to put their cameras away just after the tee announcer snapped Wie’s picture.

She birdied three of the first seven holes, draining 15-footers at Nos. 2 and 7 and nearly knocking it in for eagle at No. 4. Her gallery multiplied and so did the number of sheriffs following what they called her "entourage."

She added another birdie on the 11th to get to 9 under and was among the top five at that stage, six back of Gal and Shin.

Wie had her only bogey on the next hole and could get no closer, but her remote chance at catching the leaders probably ended earlier.

After making every putt inside 10 feet on the front nine for the first time in the tournament she missed a 6-footer for birdie on the 10th. She missed another for par on the 12th and gave herself only one other good birdie chance on the back nine.

That came at the 18th, the only par-5 on that side. She barely missed that too and finished the week just 4 under on the par-5s.

"I felt like a lot of putts on the back nine were like that," Wie said. "But what can you do? I hit good putts. Some go in, some don’t."

Wie won $43,446, giving her $1,998,164 in two-plus years as an LPGA member. She has two wins.


» Eleven players earned their way into the Kraft Nabisco Championship yesterday by finishing in the top 10 among those who were not already qualified. That includes Marcy Hart, who shot a career-low 65 to tie Wie.

» Hart had the day’s best round, with Cristie Kerr next at 66. Only three others golfers shot in the 60s.

» Kerr, who tied for third with I.K. Kim, had the highest finish of any American. Wie, Hart and Mindy Kim were next, sharing seventh, while 50-year-old Juli Inkster tied for 10th.

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