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Wie makes major child's play

The 13-year-old, who hits 300-yard drives, faces Annika Sorenstam and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc for the Nabisco title.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- At the age of 13 Annika Sorenstam was a 45-handicapper in Sweden. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc was being introduced to the strange game in France.

Neither could imagine spending spring break the way Michelle Wie has. But the 13-year-old from Hawaii will play with them today in the final pairing at the Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA Tour's first major this year.

"I cannot relate at all," Sorenstam said. "She's playing at a totally different level than I did at that age."

The long-hitting Wie gave fans a glimpse of the future Saturday, overpowering the Dinah Shore course for 6-under 66. And the 6-foot eighth-grader who wears a retainer on her teeth wasn't all that happy after two short missed putts on the back nine.

"It's killing me right now," she said. "I could have been second by now."

Meunier-Lebouc shot 2-under 70 for a three-stroke lead over Sorenstam and four over Wie.

But while a French player leading a major championship would be big news any other time, it was overshadowed by Wie, who had the crowds gasping in disbelief at the length of her drives. Bradenton's Aree Song (who recently dropped the last name Wonglukiet) was 13 when she played in the final group here three years ago and finished 10th, but she didn't hit the ball the distances Wie does.

"My drives kept going father and farther each hole," Wie said. "On 16 I just flew it over the trees. It was about 310 (yards)."

On Friday Wie became the youngest to make a cut in an LPGA major championship. She didn't take long to challenge for the lead in the third round, making six birdies on the first 11 holes. Her gallery grew along the way as word spread.

Meanwhile, Sorenstam had putting problems and finished with 71 in her bid to win the Kraft Nabisco a third straight time.

Sorenstam, No. 1 in the world, is a master at playing her own game and keeping her focus. She will need all of it to play with a 13-year-old who hits her drives 30 to 40 yards farther.

Meunier-Lebouc, who began the day with a two-shot lead, led by as many as five on the back nine before bogeys on 16 and 17. She missed an 8-footer for birdie on 18 to finish with 2-under 70 that left her 8 under on a course she hadn't seen before last week.

"I'm very happy and at the same time scared," Meunier-Lebouc said. "That's the best, actually. That's why I'm here."

Meunier-Lebouc, who has won five times on the European tour and once last year on the LPGA Tour, played with Sorenstam in the final group last weekend in Phoenix, where they tied for third. They have played the past five rounds together.

"I think it's going to be the best experience of my life," Meunier-Lebouc said of today.

Wie's prodigious length and calm demeanor not only won over the galleries, they intimidated other players. Wie has been hitting 300-yard drives, reducing the 6,510-yard Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club to a pitch-and-putt.

Wie waited patiently the entire round for her playing partners to hit shots from 50 to 100 yards behind her. Almost all her second shots on the par 4s were hit with wedges, and she had irons into many of the par 5s.

"I think I hit maybe two soft 9-irons all week," she said.

Wie's biggest problems were with her father, B.J. Wie, a university professor who caddies for his daughter. She said she had to keep calming him down.

"Every five minutes, it's like, 'Chill please,' " she said.

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