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Wie Gets Women’s Open, Tour Exemptions

May 16, 2006

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) _ Michelle Wie had a busy day. And now she has a busy summer ahead of her. The 16-year-old phenom received another exemption to the U.S. Women’s Open and accepted her first exemption to a European tour men’s event Monday, the same day she shot an even-par 72 to win a local qualifier in Hawaii for the men’s U.S. Open.

Wie and two other players advanced to sectional play next month, with Wie saying she will play in the June 5 36-hole sectional in Canoe Brook, N.J. The USGA believes she’s the first woman to get through local qualifying for the U.S. Open.

The special exemption to the U.S. Women’s Open was hardly a surprise.

USGA women’s tournament chairman Marcia Luigs said the exemptions are given to players who would be eligible to play in a tournament if not for some external reason. Along with Wie, a special exemption was given to Kelly Robbins, who had consecutive top-three finishes in the Women’s Open but missed last year’s with a back injury.

``Michelle’s case was more cut-and-dried, when you looked at the numbers,″ Luigs said. ``If she had been on the LPGA Tour, she would have been exempt. Even though she is a professional and has won enough money to have an exemption, it’s not on the LPGA money list.″

Although Wie is not an LPGA Tour member, she would have ranked 12th on the official money list last year and would be within the top 35 in 2006 _ and eligible for the tournament at the Newport Country Club _ after just two events this year.

Wie finished third in the Fields Open this year and tied for third in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, both times missing a playoff by one shot. She has earned $181,449, which would place her 16th on the money list.

``I think she clearly has enough experience to play,″ defending Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim said Monday at the Newport Country Club. ``I think even if she goes through qualifying, she’d make it through.″

Luigs said exemptions are not given just to draw name players to an event.

``We don’t award special exemptions to help a site sell tickets. That’s never a consideration,″ she said. ``But we’re thrilled with the outcome.″

Wie also will play Sept. 7-10 in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, her first time competing on the European tour. Wie has competed eight times against the men on five tours, making the cut for the first time May 5 in the SK Telecom Open in South Korea.

``Michelle Wie has demonstrated her outstanding golfing skills to a global audience as both an amateur and now as a professional, and we look forward to welcoming her to the Omega European Masters,″ said George O’Grady, executive director of the European tour.

Wie, who has an endorsement contract with Omega, will be the second woman to compete on the European tour. Laura Davies finished next to last in ANZ Championship in Australia two years ago.

The European invitation gives Wie, who is finishing her junior year of high school in Honolulu, a global schedule against men and women. Her 2006 schedule now includes 14 tournaments _ eight on the LPGA, three on the PGA Tour and one each on the Asian and European tours and Japanese PGA Tour.

Wie was tied for the lead going into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open last year at Cherry Hills, but crashed to an 82 and wound up tied for 23rd. The top 15 and ties are exempt the following year, meaning she either needed a special exemption or would have had to go through 36-hole qualifying.

Her second special exemption _ Wie also received one to the Women’s Open in 2004 _ is sure to rankle some women. Morgan Pressel, who tied for second at Cherry Hills, said this year she felt Wie should have to qualify like any other player.

``I don’t see why she shouldn’t, or why should be afraid, or expect an exemption,″ Pressel said.

Wie has not missed the cut on the LPGA Tour since she was 13 in 2003, and she has five top fives in the majors, including a runner-up finish in the LPGA Championship and a tie for third in the Women’s British Open last year.

Robbins lost in a three-way playoff in 2003 and finished third in 2004, but withdrew from the Women’s Open last year with a back injury that kept her out most of the season.


AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

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