John Senden willtestify that there's no such thing as a bad place to get your first PGA Tourwin, but if it was attention he was after, he could have done better than theTPC at Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., site of last week's John Deere Classic.
In becoming the fifth Australian to win on Tour this year, the 35-year-old fromBrisbane played steady, nerveless golf, shooting a 19-under-par 265, one betterthan runner-up J.P. Hayes, in weather that made Deere Run feel like Dante'ssummer home. Still, Senden's breakthrough was overshadowed by last Friday'sheat-exhaustion-induced departure of the tournament's undisputed headliner,Michelle Wie.
Wie had to call it quits on what most of the other pros deemed the mostmiserable day on Tour this year. The heat index peaked in the upper 90s, andevery player came off the course soaked in sweat.
Wie began showing signs of distress on the 5th green, when she sat on her bagand buried her face in a towel. After holing out at the 7th, she was met byBenjamin Shnurman, the tournament's physician. Wie birdied the par-4 8th, butwhen she stepped off the 9th tee, Shnurman joined her in the fairway. Walkingto her ball, she paused periodically, doubling over and clutching her stomach,and at one point detoured into the fescue left of the fairway with her handover her mouth. After putting out for a double bogey Wie sought out her motherand father, Bo and B.J., in the gallery. When Bo asked Michelle if she wantedto continue, Michelle shook her head and said, "No." Then she said,"I'm sorry," to B.J., and turned to Shnurman and told him, "I'mgoing to withdraw." She informed her playing partners, Jeff Gove andDiasuke Maruyama, of her decision, signed Maruyama's scorecard, slid into acart and was driven to the medical trailer behind the clubhouse. Michelle wascarried from the cart to the trailer by three tournament staffers and spent ahalf hour inside cooling down.
When Michelleemerged she was on a stretcher, swaddled in sheets from feet to chest with anIV in her right arm. An ambulance took her to the Genesis Medical Center inSilvis, where she was released after three hours.
Competitively,Wie's tournament had ended long before she took ill. On Thursday, on her secondhole, the par-4 11th, Wie was attacked by a swarm of ornery fireflies, backedoff her tee shot four times and then fanned her ball way right into the trees.When she reached the spotter and asked where the ball had finished, heshrugged, waved his orange marking flag toward the kudzu-covered underbrush andsaid, "Somewhere in there." She wound up making a double bogey.
On the 12th, a215-yard par-3, her block-slice disappeared into a line of oaks about 30 yardsshort of the green, and she did well to make a 4. Wayward drives led to morebogeys on three of the next five holes. Turning at four over, Wie was alreadyfacing long odds against making the cut for the first time in five starts onthe PGA Tour. It turned out she would've had to play the next 27 holes in sixunder par to make it, and it didn't help that she dropped two more shots on theback nine to complete a six-over 77.
Worseningmatters, Wie was accused of slow play by Gove, who shot rounds of 74 and 69 andmissed the cut. Maruyama went on to tie for 10th, six strokes behind Senden.Gove, a 35-year-old journeyman pro, complained that because of Wie their groupwas put on the clock for the last 10 holes. Said Gove, "She has a beautifulswing, but she has her name on the bag so she needs to be a professional. She'snot there yet." (On Friday, despite playing the final nine without Wie,Gove was still fuming. Asked what Wie had said to him when she quit, hereplied, "She said she was going to withdraw, which was good, since she washolding us up again.")
Even without theillness the phenom's performance would have qualified as her most disappointingon the PGA Tour. She had arrived at the Deere with high hopes, having missedthe 2005 cut by only two shots. Then came Thursday and her second-worst roundagainst the men. (She opened with a nine-over 79 at the Sony Open in January.)Asked to explain what went wrong, Wie made a joke. "It was my evil twinsister playing," she said. Funny, but the question deserved a real answer.Wie has shown steady improvement in LPGA events. (In five starts this year shehas finished no worse than fifth.) And in May she made the cut at a men's Asiantour event in South Korea, finishing 17th. But her two PGA Tour appearancesthis year have been marred by early nerves. At the Sony she played the firstnine in seven over. In both tournaments she settled down only when making thecut was out of the question. "She has to play her very best to make a cutout here," says Sean O'Hair, Wie's practice-round partner at the Deere andone of her strongest supporters.
O'Hair wasfamiliar with Johnny Miller's pronouncement at this year's U.S. Women's Openthat "Wie has more shots than any player on either tour, other than Phil orTiger," but O'Hair adds this caveat: "But she doesn't have the 300-yardbomb or the shots out of the rough that 80 percent of the guys have. And mostof the guys putt really well, so I wouldn't go that far." Of her shakystarts, Zach Johnson, another practice-round partner last week, says,"That's [due to] pressure for sure, and being 16 years old. She's too youngnot to succumb to it, at least on this Tour."
Some feel thatWie doesn't play enough to get into a rhythm, but at the Deere she was lookingforward to some downtime. Wie hasn't been home since Honolulu's Punahou Schoollet out on May 26. Her sectional qualifier for the men's U.S. Open in NewJersey took place 10 days later. The Deere was her third straight tournament."She talks about her friends back home and what they're doing," Johnsonsays. "She misses home, I know that."
After Wie optedout, those remaining focused on the task at hand. Senden is a 14-year pro whojoined the PGA Tour in 2002. Altogether the Australians have collected sevenout of 29 Tour titles in 2006. Senden was a fitting champion for the Deere. Hiswife, Jackie, grew up on a farm in New South Wales and knows her way aroundfarm implements. "She loves it here," Senden said on Sunday evening."She thinks [the Deere] is a major." Now he does too.
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