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Len Ziehm On Golf

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN: This is what Wie has been waiting for

KOHLER, Wis. – Finally Michelle Wie is back – well, at least for a day.

Long touted as the next superstar of women’s golf, Wie fired a 6-under-par 66 in the second round of the 67th U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run on Friday, an indication that her lengthy run of mediocre play might be over.

“At least I know I made the cut,’’ quipped Wie after moving into a tie for second place with Cristie Kerr midway through the 72-hole championship. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, playing in the threesome behind Wie, posted a 68 and holds the lead at 5-under-par 139 entering today’s third round. Wie, though, was the story of the day after posting the best round of the tournament so far.

“Playing behind her, I never saw her make as many putts as she did today,’’ said Pettersen. “She was fist-pumping on every putt. Michelle’s a great player with a lot of game.’’

But, until Friday, it hadn’t been so evident. Wie had six missed cuts in her previous 10 tournaments this year with her best finish a tie for 33rd.

“I played out of my butt to shoot 6-under. I’m pretty stoked to be back in contention,’’ said Wie. “I felt it coming the last couple weeks. It’s nice that it all came together today.’’

Wie, 22, contended for this biggest title in women’s golf in 2005 and 2006 when she was a young phenom. During that period of her life she became the youngest player (at age 10) to qualify for a U.S. amateur tournament, the youngest win one (the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links), the youngest to qualify for an LPGA event and the youngest to make a 36-hole cut on the pro circuit. She turned pro before her 15th birthday.

She was so promising then that she even tried to compete against the men in some PGA Tour events. That didn’t turn out so well, and Wie opted to go to college while playing a limited LPGA schedule. Though now a Stanford University graduate, she has but two LPGA wins, one in the limited field Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2009 and the other in the full-field Canadian Open in 2010.

This year she’s been bugged by putting problems, and she even briefly tried the belly putter made popular on the men’s Champions Tour. Those putting woes disappeared on Friday, when Wie had 13 one-putt greens and made seven birdies en route to her best round – by three shots, mind you, in a U.S. Women’s Open. Maybe, just maybe, that magic will carry over for two more days and Wie will get the long-awaited first big win of her career.

“It’s nice that people have had those expectations for me,’’ she said. “It’s better than them having no expectations. I don’t know if anyone gave up on me or not. I’m sure some did and some didn’t. But I never gave up on myself, and today was a good reminder that I still have it.’’

She still has to overcome Pettersen, Kerr and the flock of Korean golfers who have dominated women’s golf in recent years.

Pettersen challenged for the Open title twice, tying for second in 2010 and tying for sixth in 2009. In 1998 Blackwolf Run proved the toughest-ever challenge for the tournament, as champion Se Ri Pak, first of the Korean stars, won with a 6-over-par performance. Pettersen doesn’t think the current Blackwolf – 400 yards longer than 14 years ago – is all that brutal.

“It’s pretty straight-forward, as wide open as U.S. Open course will ever get, and the greens are pretty big,’’ said Pettersen. “The course is very playable. You hit the fairways, you give yourself a lot of chances.’’