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Wie hangs in, but falls short

| Sunday, July 30, 2006

EVIAN, France -- Michelle Wie had a two-shot lead after 11 holes and seemed poised to answer all of the questions about when her first professional win was going to come.

Then the 16-year-old from Hawaii bogeyed the 13th hole.

That was all Karrie Webb needed.

Webb became the first woman to win three events this season after shooting a 4-under-par 68 in the final round of the Evian Masters on Saturday, denying Wie her first LPGA Tour victory.

Webb finished at 16-under 272 for the tournament, one stroke ahead of both Wie (68) and 42-year-old Laura Davies (67).

"I'm getting very close. Today was the closest I've ever been. It's not as easy as it would seem," Wie said of getting her first win. "I'm very proud that I've been playing this consistently. It's an achievement on its own."

It marked Wie's best result this year and the fourth time in her career that she has finished as the runner-up in a professional tournament. In 2005, she was the runner-up at the McDonald's Championship and tied for second at the SBS Open, as well as the Evian Masters. She and Lorena Ochoa finished eight shots behind Paula Creamer in last year's tournament.

Wie was in a good position to become the youngest player to win an LPGA event yesterday, trailing Webb by just one shot after the third round. She has come close to victory on other occasions, leading after the third rounds of the U.S. Open in 2005 and 2006.

Despite waking up with a stiff neck, Wie looked strong all day as she played in a group with Webb and Davies.

"Karrie and Laura are awesome players, and I was very honored to play them," Wie said. "Laura made some awesome shots. I was blown out of my mind and Karrie played some great shots, too.

"I can learn from them, but I didn't feel I was lacking anything playing them."

Wie tied Webb for the lead with an eagle on the par-5 ninth. She even took a two-shot lead after a birdie on the 11th, which Webb bogeyed.

"I was excited. I'd made birdie, but I didn't feel anything different," Wie said. "I knew there were a lot of holes left."

The bogey on the 13th hole cost her.

She drove the ball into the bunker, and her next shot found the sand, too. On her third stroke, Wie managed to get it onto the green, but her 30-foot putt went 6 inches left of the hole, leaving her in a three-way tie with Davies and Webb.

Webb, who birdied No. 12, took the lead for good with a birdie on the 14th. She added this win to victories at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Michelob Ultra Open.

"I am very thrilled, actually, and really proud that I hung in there," Webb said. "After I bogeyed and Michelle made a birdie for a two-shot lead, I told myself to believe in myself.

"I feel proud that I gave myself a chance to win, which is how it worked out."

This season has marked a resurgence for the 31-year-old Australian, who went two years without a victory before winning the Kraft Nabisco in March -- her first major victory since the 2002 Women's British Open at Turnberry.

"Obviously, my win at the Kraft Nabisco was the first in a long time, so it felt pretty good," Webb said. "Though this feels pretty great, too.

"But any time you're in a position for a chance to win, it feels like the first. You're dealing with a lot of emotion. You're coaching yourself through every hole."

Wie ran into more problems on the 15th, when her tee shot went soaring into the spectator area, landing near the boundary's chain-link fence. There were also cables behind her feet, hindering her.

"I was hoping to get a drop, but no," Wie said. "But they moved the cables. My alignment was good, and I used a 6-iron out of there and left myself with a really good wedge shot."

That stroke landed on the green, about 10 feet from the hole, but spun back about 35 feet. Her putt went 6 inches wide of the cup, though she ended up sinking her 7-footer for par.

Webb and Davies also parred the hole.

Davies duffed her tee shot on the 16th, sending it only 60 yards, but on her next stroke got it out of the rough and onto the green, closer than either Wie and Webb, and saved par.

Webb sank an 18-foot putt on the 17th for the birdie, increasing her lead to two shots over Wie and Davies.

Though Wie finally mastered her tee shot on the 17th hole -- where she had struggled all week -- her putter failed her and she settled for par. Wie had bogeyed the hole on Friday for the second time in the tournament, along with a par there in the second round.

"I told you I'd be on the green," Wie said afterward.

Wie struggled again on the 18th hole, sending her tee shot into the rough, and her second stroke went into the bunker. She managed to get up and down for a birdie, but it was too late to catch Webb.

Webb's tee shot landed on the fairway. On her second stroke, after a moment of indecision and a brief discussion with her caddy, she opted to protect her two-shot lead instead of attacking the green, switching her hybrid for a wedge.

Par was enough for her to lock up the win.

Lorena Ochoa had an albatross, using a hybrid for the 191-yard shot on the par-5 ninth hole, but finished fifth at 13-under.

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