Wie hardly downcast after poor result

HONOLULU -- It was a simple white sign featuring bold, black lettering. Confiscated once for appearing on Waialae Country Club property, then covered up a second time by Sony Open tournament marshals, it now hung on a tree in Ira Helfer's backyard, bordering the course's first fairway some 285 yards from the teebox.

The sign read: "WIE??? WHY!!!"

"Take it however you want to take it," said Helfer, who has lived here for 22 years. But he quickly qualified his position. "I'm against her being on the men's tour. She hasn't earned this."

It's not exactly an original thought. The widely held belief that Michelle Wie hasn't paid her dues, that her means of repeatedly receiving sponsors' exemptions to gain undeserved entry into PGA Tour events for which she is overmatched, continues to gain momentum from fellow players, media and, of course, golf fans like Helfer.

And so it hardly went unnoticed that the opening tee shot from the precocious 17-year-old landed more than 100 yards short of the taunting placard, an ugly duck-hook that stopped on an embankment under some tall palm trees, well left of its intended target.

Though Wie saved par on the hole with a powerful recovery shot and deft up-and-down, the opening drive was a sign of things to come. There was a worm-burner that lifelessly dribbled down the fairway. A recovery shot that bounded 10 yards into the roped-off gallery. Another duck-hooked tee shot.

And those were just the first three holes.

Score one for Helfer and his fellow detractors on Thursday, as Wie sputtered to a first-round score of 8-over 78, her second-highest total in seven career rounds at her hometown event.

"It was very frustrating," said Wie, who later characterized her round as "growing pains."

If her scorecard was on life support, the statistics should be surrounded by a chalk outline. Wie totaled two double bogeys, six bogeys, eight pars and two birdies. She hit one of 14 fairways. Five of 18 greens in regulation. Saved par on one of five bunker shots. Averaged a meager 248 yards off the tee. Left her approach shots an average of 56 feet from the hole.

The numbers should provide more motivation, add more support to those who contend she is out of her element and out of her league by competing against the top male professionals in the world. They will cite the fact that Wie's playing partners, hardly superstars in rookie Stephen Marino and journeyman Gavin Coles, finished ahead of her by 10 and seven shots, respectively. They will claim that any player who walks from green to teebox buoyed by ironic yet authentic shouts of, "Great bogey!" doesn't deserve to walk amongst the PGA Tour's best.

Then again, Wie's supporters -- and, yes, she does have plenty of supporters -- gained fuel for their argument as well. They will insist she vindicated a front-nine 8-over 43 with a back-nine even-par 35 that included those two birdies. They will point out she didn't use her injured right wrist, for which she's been receiving acupuncture and physical therapy every day, as an excuse for any inefficacies on the course.

And more than anything, the Michelle Wie believers will proclaim that it's her ever-irrepressible attitude, her personal assurance that she belongs on this grand stage, that truly shows her potential.

"I knew if I got the ball in the fairway, I really could have shot low today," Wie said, "because my irons felt really great and my short game felt great and my putting felt great."

We're pretty sure the word "chutzpah" isn't of Hawaiian derivation, but that's what Wie displayed during her post-round comments. Moxie, too. Swagger. Maybe even a little ego.

Spend any time around professional golfers and you'll realize they're an awfully pessimistic bunch. If they shoot 70, they'll contend it could have been a 66. A 66 was should have been a 62. Even a low number like 62 invariably includes some disappointments.

Which is what makes Wie's rhetoric so confounding. Either she's all backbone or is doing a commensurate job of hiding it.

"I actually feel really confident about my swing," she said. "I totally forgot about the front-nine because that wasn't even worth thinking about. I mean, it was pretty bad. The last nine holes, I felt like I really got my game going and I can really shoot a low score tomorrow."

There are signs Wie shouldn't be here right now, shouldn't be competing in her seventh career PGA Tour event. Figurative ones, like her opening round score. Literal ones, like the sign that hung from Helfer's tree. One thing's for use, at least: This story is far from over.

As Wie said, "I'm not going to get it right, perfectly right, at 17. That would be crazy."

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com