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Wie keeps her cool

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    Michelle Wie “made a lot of good up and downs,” including at No. 15, where she played her third shot from the bunker.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. >> With the first major of the year slipping away in the first round, Michelle Wie fought back yesterday to salvage a 74 in the 40th annual Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Wie is eight shots behind leaders Brittany Lincicome, the 2009 Kraft champion, and Stacy Lewis. Both shot 6-under-par 66 playing just ahead of her at Mission Hills Country Club. Sandra Gal, who won last week’s Kia Championship, and Mika Miyazato had 67s in the morning. Gal, who averaged 26 putts last week, needed only 20 yesterday.

On a benign but brutally hot day, 40 golfers shot par or better in major-tournament conditions. The rough is dense and dangerous thanks to a wet winter, and the greens are brick hard.

Lincicome made a plea for watering the greens last night — “especially No. 1, and there was one other green turning brown or even purple, which can’t be good.”

Wie is in danger of missing the cut (low 70 and ties) for the first time in seven starts here. Her share for 54th leaves her one shot on the right side of the first-day bubble.

But, with almost nothing working and the temperature hitting triple digits, magnifying her frustration, the Punahou graduate collected herself and her game at her 11th hole. She was 3 over at the time, coming off a streak of three bogeys in four holes.

On the par-5 second hole, she found her first fairway in five tries. But, with the ball below her feet, Wie pulled her second shot into yet more rough.

She screamed, finally, letting loose all the pent-up anger of a first nine where she hit just two fairways and four greens. Her putting, which relegated her to seventh at Kia despite a brilliant ball-striking week, was no better.

The scream served its purpose. Wie hit a phenomenal flop shot that released to within 2 feet of the pin. She sank that putt for her only birdie and parred out.

The world’s ninth-ranked female golfer was never in danger of bogey the rest of the way, but also never had another close shot at birdie.

“It was a lot of grinding,” Wie said. “I felt like I was working on my short game out there. I could have been a lot worse on the front nine, but I made a lot of good up and downs and kind of kept it together on the back nine.”

That was a huge improvement from the first part of her day, when her driver went left, her approach shots went wherever and her only two realistic birdie chances came on the par 5s. She left a putt on the lip at No. 11 and a chip on the lip at No. 18.

“The rough is really penal,” Wie said. “I was trying to get things together, but my first nine just really did not go the way I wanted it to. But like I said, it could have been a lot worse. I had damage control today. Hopefully tomorrow it will be a lot better.”

Meanwhile, playing partner Paula Creamer was also hitting it all over the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. But she got one freakishly good bounce and took just 12 putts on her first nine to make the turn at 2 under.

Creamer, ranked 10th in the world, three-putted three of the first four holes after the turn and finished at 73.

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