-- The path remains problematic, a 15-year-old amateur competing against grown men who play the game for a living. Yet, through one round of the John Deere Classic, Michelle Wie is within range of becoming the first woman in 60 years to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.
Wie overcame a sluggish start Thursday to post a 1-under 70 at TPC of Deere Run, tied for 73rd, seven strokes behind the leader, Hunter Mahan. The top 70 and ties will play on the weekend. Wie, who has come up short in two previous encounters with the men, both at the Sony Open in her native Hawaii, is trying to accomplish what no member of her sex has done since the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945. Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley also failed in their attempts in 2003.
"The front nine I was just a little bit shaky and made a lot of stupid bogeys," said Wie, who closed with a 2-under 34. "But I'm pretty proud of myself for getting back on track. I feel like I'll see some good scores from now on."
For Wie, who received a sponsor's exemption, the pivotal moment of her round took place at the 485-yard, par-4 9th. After her drive landed in the right rough, about 200 yards from the green, Wie needed to slice her 3-iron approach to avoid the trees and reach the putting surface. With three bogeys in her last four holes, she could not afford another one.
She pulled off the shot, the ball stopping about 30 feet from the pin, and proceeded to knock it in for a most unlikely birdie. It was her third birdie on the front nine, which also included four bogeys. "I had no view of the hole," Wie said. "It could have been a bogey or worse hole. It has been like at least a year since I played that shot. I really trusted in myself, and it felt great."
Wie did not record a bogey on the back, missing only one green. She had an excellent chance for eagle on the 557-yard, par-5 17th after a 3-wood approach from about 250 yards ended up only 12 feet from the pin. She missed the putt, however, having to settle for a birdie. On 18, after her iron shot landed in a greenside bunker, she closed in style with a 15-footer to save par. She putted well most of the day.
As usual, the gallery -- a sizable one -- was suitably impressed by the phenom's performance. So, too, were her playing partners, rookies Nick Watney and Scott Gutschewski, who had never met her until the first tee.
"To realize she's a 15-year-old girl is kind of mind-boggling," Watney said. "When I was 15, it didn't look like that."
Though they outdrove Wie, who hit five tee shots over 290 yards, they could not outduel her. Watney finished with a 4-over 75, Gutschewski an even-par 71.
"I was 40, 50 yards past her all day," said Gutschewski, "and she still beat me. . . . So there you go. She hit some good chip shots and made some nice putts. From the way I had seen her play, it seemed like that was kind of her weak point."
The conversations during the day, apparently, weren't overly stimulating. "We talked about movies a little bit," Watney said. " 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith,' I think, and . . . 'Legally Blonde,' or something like that."
Asked about being teased by their friends, the two displayed no embarrassment over their predicament.
"She's going to beat a lot of guys," Gutschewski predicted. "She'll probably beat a lot of guys tomorrow. She's going to beat a lot of guys for the rest of her life, I'm sure."
What about Friday? For Wie, the cut, at least for the time being, does not appear to be her primary concern.
"I'm not really thinking about the cut," Wie said. "If I put up three crazy rounds, who knows?"