Thursday, 07 September 2006

Teenage prodigy Michelle Wie will become the first woman to compete in a full European Tour event when she hits her opening drive in the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in the Swiss Alps.

Wie, making her tenth appearance in men's events around the world, will play alongside England's Nick Dougherty and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in the opening two rounds.

In her nine previous appearances on the men's tour, Wie had missed the cut in eight events before finally making her breakthrough at the SK Telecom Open in Korea in May, a feat she hopes to emulate in the spectacular alpine setting of Crans Montana.

"This is so beautiful up here, sometimes you get distracted by the view," said Wie after her practice round. "I just want to try my hardest and who knows what will happen. Obviously I want to make the cut, obviously a top ten, obviously I want to win, but all I can do is try my hardest and see what happens.

Admitting that her inclusion in the field would attract a mixed response, Wie said: "There are going to be some people that aren't happy with me playing in men's tournaments.

"I am not expecting 100 percent support every week but that is the way the world works. There are going to be people that support me and others that don't but I feel people here have been very supportive and welcoming.

"I am not just doing it for the support I get, I am doing it for myself and my own self happiness. I love playing men's events and the challenge. I feel an adrenaline rush when I play these events and it is a lot of fun."

Wie tested her game on Tuesday when she joined European Ryder Cup player, Sergio Garcia, in a practice round.

"Playing with Sergio was awesome. It is the first time playing with him and he is such a great player I learnt a lot playing with him today."

Garcia was fully supportive of her inclusion in the field this week when he said: "I think anything that helps the game of golf is good. Anything, No matter what. It might not help the guy she has taken a spot from this week but it might help him in the future."

But he added a touch of caution when he said she may struggle on the testing course.

"Michelle is definitely an extraordinary player and hits the ball quite a long way for a woman," said Garcia. "Hopefully she will do well this week but if she had a higher ball flight it would be a bit easier for her.

"It is not an easy golf course and her short game will have to be sharp."

Dougherty, was looking forward to playing with Wie over the first two rounds, although admitting it was both a privilege and a burden, and believes her inclusion is good for the tournament.

"I think it will be good experience for us both. It’s good for this tournament, it works really well for the sponsors. It has brought massive attention. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people here on a Wednesday. It’s great and I am looking forward to it. She is a huge talent and I am sure she will go far in the game.

"Playing with is a privilege in many ways, a burden in others as there is the added pressure of if she beats me I have to shake her hand and say ‘well done, play well at the weekend’. Maybe I need that little push anyway. It is a nice thing to be done and I am looking forward to playing with her.

"Think how many people are going to watch this on the Golf Channel and Sky because Michelle is here. The crowd is going to be bigger. She has that "wow factor" that Tiger has right now. It is great for us. There are obviously going to be guys who disagree and say she takes a spot in the tournament and an invite a guy could have but all in all you weigh it up and I think she is a bonus for this tournament."



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