HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Playing in the U.S. Open wasn't the only thing on Michelle Wie's mind.
Her chances of getting to Winged Foot might have been better had she stayed in Hawaii for the 36-hole sectional qualifier instead of trying to get one of the 18 spots in a large field of PGA Tour players. The one spot available at Poipu Bay - there were only 10 players in that field - went to 15-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, whom Wie beat by two shots in the first stage of qualifying.
But staying in Hawaii would have meant missing the LPGA Championship, and that means just as much to Wie.
Given a choice between playing against Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open, or winning the LPGA Championship for her first major - and first victory in three years - Wie deliberated a few minutes before choosing the trophy.
"Winning this week would be really awesome," she said at Bulle Rock Golf Club, a course that brings good memories.
Annika Sorenstam is the three-time defending champion when the LPGA Championship gets under way today, with designs of becoming the first woman to win the same major four consecutive times, a feat matched only by Walter Hagen from 1924-27 at the PGA Championship, when the format was match play.
Karrie Webb is the only woman with a chance at the Grand Slam this year, having won the Kraft Nabisco Championship with an eagle from 116 yards in the 18th fairway and a 7-foot birdie putt in the playoff. The hottest player might be Lorena Ochoa, who has won twice and finished second five times this year, putting her atop the money list.
But as usual, the attention is squarely on the 16-year-old Wie.
Last year at Bulle Rock, she closed with 69 to finish three shots behind Sorenstam. She never had a serious chance of winning, even though she trimmed five shots off Sorenstam's lead over the final nine holes.
Expectations are higher than ever.
Wie's game has shown improvement, even as her putter remains spotty, having made the cut in an Asian Tour event against the men, and showing remarkable control with her irons at Canoe Brook on Monday during the U.S. Open qualifier.
Trying to rest after a 10-hour day Monday - "I felt like I was 80 years old when I woke up," she said - Wie didn't start her practice round until Wednesday afternoon, when gray clouds sent light rain onto the 6,596-yard course.
But as hard as she prepared for the U.S. Open qualifier, she spent just as much time last week practicing at Bulle Rock.
"I'm even more motivated to play better this week," she said.
What makes these interesting times are her schedule. As a junior at Punahou School in Honolulu, Wie rarely had a chance to play two tournaments in a row, or even two in a month. Now that school is out, she will keep a golf schedule similar to other professionals.
"We're never going to see what she's capable of until she plays a bunch of tournaments in a row," swing coach David Leadbetter said.
This might be the time to find out. After the McDonald's LPGA Championship, Wie heads to the U.S. Women's Open on June 29, then straight to the Women's World Match Play Championship. Then she goes to the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour, followed by consecutive weeks on LPGA Tour at the Evian Masters and Women's British Open.
"I feel like I can go to the next step," Wie said.
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