RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Michelle Wie is maturing, and so is her golf game.
The way she handled herself and the golf course Friday was evidence of both.
The long hitting 14-year-old kept herself in contention midway through the Kraft Nabisco Championship with an even-par 72 that put her at 3-under 141, five shots better than she was at the same time a year ago.
It wasn't just the improvement on the scorecard that was impressive. It was the way Wie went about fashioning it.
The driver remained in the bag, for the most part, mostly because Wie has come to understand that just bombing the ball down the fairway doesn't win golf tournaments. The wind was gusting and she played within herself, taking what the course would give her.
Perhaps more importantly, Wie seemed to be having fun, and it showed. She chatted happily with playing partner Stephanie Louden, jumped up and down when a birdie putt didn't go in, and left the 18th green with no regrets.
"I'm very proud of myself," Wie said.
Her father was, too. B.J. Wie caddied for his daughter last year, but he stood outside the ropes Friday and watched as Wie handled the conditions and the pressure of a major championship with skills far beyond her young age.
"What I'm really happy about is she got better than last year," B.J. Wie said. "As long as we see improvement, we're happy."
There wasn't a lot to be unhappy about in a performance that showed how far Wie has come from last year, when she shot a third-round 66 and ended up with a ninth-place finish.
Wie teed off on a chilly morning with hard winds gusting around the Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club after an opening 3-under 69. Father and daughter set a goal for the day of even par and, nearly five hours later, that's what Wie shot.
"I was happy I shot even par because it could have been a lot worse," she said.
Wie wisely kept the driver out of play until a couple of holes on the back nine when the wind was behind her back and the opportunity presented itself. She also showed she had learned something about her game in the year since she made her major championship debut here.
On the 10th hole she had a shot from the right rough to a short right pin - a shot she might have attempted last year with a hard pitching wedge. Instead, she hit a knockdown 9-iron and ran it up to the green, something a more experienced player might do.
She had spent much of the previous afternoon on the driving range trying to correct a swing flaw that led her to hook the ball, leaving only when it got dark.
"Her attitude has changed dramatically since last year," B.J. Wie said. "She's getting more mature every year."
Indeed, Wie seemed shut off from other players and treated much like an outsider last year, especially after a contentious situation at the U.S. Open. But she's beginning to be able to have conversations with many players, and it helped that she played with Louden the first two rounds.
"Michelle has played with Stephanie before and Stephanie went to Stanford, where Michelle wants to go," her father said. "She considers her like a big sister."
Stanford, though, may no longer be Wie's goal after high school. B.J. Wie said for the first time that his daughter might turn pro at the age of 18 instead of playing in college.
B.J. Wie said, though, that he talked with LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw and assured him that his daughter has no interest in asking for an exemption to the LPGA minimum age of 18.
"Michelle will not turn professional before 18," he said. "It's a really high priority for her."
When you're having the kind of fun Wie is having this week, it's easy to see why.
"I think at this young age, if I'm playing for money, I don't think I'd be able to handle it," she said. "I like being an amateur, being carefree out there."
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