On a day when Annika Sorenstam struggled and a French player led the Nabisco Championship, a long-hitting 13-year-old gave fans a glimpse into the future of women's golf.
Michelle Wie isn't even old enough to play on a high school team, but she was good enough to shoot the day's best round, a 6-under-par 66 that put her in the final group Sunday with Sorenstam and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
Meunier-Lebouc shot a 2-under 70 to take a three-stroke lead over Sorenstam and four over Wie, who was as unflappable as an eighth-grader in a major championship could be.
"I didn't even know what I was shooting," Wie said. "I just felt like I had to make one more birdie."
Wie almost did, lipping out a four-footer on the final hole today, one of two short back-nine misses that were still bothering the eighth-grader from Honolulu some time later.
"It's killing me right now," she said. "I could have been second by now."
That spot was occupied by two-time defending champion Sorenstam, who had short putting troubles of her own and finished with a 71.
Sorenstam 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 will likely be hitting her drives 30 to 40 yards past her.
"I cannot relate at all," Sorenstam said. "She's playing at a totally different level than I did at that age."
Meunier-Lebouc, who began the day with a two shot lead, led by five shots on the back nine before back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17 brought her back closer to the field.
She missed an eight-footer for birdie on 18 to finish with a 2-under 70 that left her at 8 under on a course she hadn't seen before arriving here earlier this 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."
Wie's prodigious length and her calm demeanor not only won over the galleries, but seemed intimidating to some of her fellow players.
That showed on the 12th hole, a 385-yard par-4 where Wie hit a 3-wood long down the fairway. Leta Lindley, who was playing with Wie, pulled out her driver, hit it short into the right rough and ended up making a triple-bogey 7.
"It was very unnerving for the two girls playing with her after a while," said Wie's swing coach, Gary Gilchrest.
All week long, Wie has been hitting 300-yard drives, reducing the 6,510-yard Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club into a pitch-and-putt course.
The 6-foot Wie stood waiting patiently all day Friday for her playing partners to hit their shots from 50 to 100 yards behind her. Almost every second shot on the par-4s was hit with a wedge, and she had irons into many of the par-5s.
"My drives kept going father and farther each hole," Wie said. "On 16, I just flew it over the trees. It was about 310."