GUADALAJARA: Michelle Wie’s long wait for her first LPGA Tour title ended on Sunday as the onetime golf prodigy celebrated a two-shot triumph in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
The 20-year-old Korean-American, who turned pro at a precocious 16, fired a three-under par 69 for a two-shot triumph over Paula Creamer.
Wie finished with a flourish, blasting out of a greenside bunker to six inches at 18 and tapping in for birdie.
Wie, her putter in her hand, raised both arms in triumph, then clapped her free hand over her mouth.
She pulled the ball from the hole, turned first to the fans and then to the sky as she let out a sigh.
“It’s definitely off by my back,” said Wie, who experienced at an early age the pressure of massive expectations.
“I think that hopefully life will be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do.”
On her Twitter account, she was a little more expansive.
“Wowww-w-w ... never thought this would feel THIS great!!!!” Wie wrote on the social networking website.
Wie won with a 13-under par total of 275. She had started the day tied for the lead with fellow American Cristie Kerr.
Creamer closed with a 70 to take second on 277. Morgan Pressel (67), South Korean Jiyai Shin (71) and Kerr (72) were three shots off the lead on 278.
Wie had opportunities to pull away on the front nine but couldn’t make any headway. Her birdie at 11 put her 13-under and gave her a one-stroke lead over Creamer and Kerr.
She bogeyed the next, when her shot from under some trees hit one trunk and ricocheted into the fairway.
But she steadied herself with a string of pars to give herself the chance at the last.
After her winning putt dropped, Wie’s Solheim Cup team-mates Pressel and Creamer gave her a traditional champion’s shower.
“Just seeing them come out and pour beer all over me, it was a great feeling,” Wie said.
“I’ve always seen it on TV and I’ve always wanted people to pour beer on me. It was as great as I thought it was.”
She also got a hug from her father, B.J. and mother, Bo.
“I think it’s just so awesome, seeing them on the 18th green and hugging them,” Wie said. “You know, we have been through a lot as a family, and it’s just so great that they are here to share my highs and to keep me up from the lows, as well.”
An eagle on 10 gave Creamer a share of the lead, but two late bogeys ended her victory bid.
“I gave it a chance, and Michelle played great,” said Creamer, who has battled stomach problems for a year. She is winless this season after eight career victories.
The victory was a long-awaited milestone for the 20-year-old Wie, who shot to prominence when she qualified for a US Golf Association event at the age of 10 and played an LPGA tournament when she was 12.
She turned pro with great fanfare at 16, but her insistence on testing herself against men’s fields drew criticism as well as attention.
She suffered through highly public struggles with her game as well as a debilitating wrist injury in 2007, but finally earned her LPGA Tour card in qualifying school last December.
Since joining the women’s tour she has gone from strength to strength. She has two runner-up finishes this season and emerged as a star at the Solheim Cup, where she was unbeaten in four matches.
“Right now it feels fantastic,” Wie said. “It’s a great year. I went through some ups and downs ... And obviously this tournament is the icing on the cake.”
The victory for Wie can only be good news for an LPGA Tour battered by economic woes as well the forced resignation of its commissioner earlier this year.
“Literally, when Michelle Wie is atop the leaderboard it’s like night and day and that’s star power,” LPGA spokesman David Higdon said on Saturday.
“That’s all it is. This is somebody people want to follow. You see it in her presence, the way she walks around. The way people talk to her.”
Next weeks’ LPGA Tour Championship promises another good story as Shin and world number one Ochoa battle to the very end for Player of the Year honours. — AFP