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Wie doesn't get Sony Open exemption, questionable for other men's events

Michelle Wie might start her 2008 season in Hawaii, but not at
the Sony Open.


Wie, who has played the PGA Tour event every year since 2004,
did not receive one of the four unrestricted sponsor exemptions,
tournament director Ray Stosik said Thursday.


Swing coach David Leadbetter said the 18-year-old from Honolulu
likely would ask for exemptions at one or both of the LPGA Tour
events in Hawaii that kick off the women's golf season in February.
He also said competition against the men would probably be on hold
until she gets her health and her game back together.

"She's not ready to play in that yet," Leadbetter said of the
Sony Open, where Wie first rose to fame by shooting 68 at age 14
and missing the cut by one shot. "Her health is getting better,
her game is getting better, the confidence is growing. The plan
hasn't been made totally for this year yet, but she's looking to
play one or two Hawaiian events against the women.


"The whole goal is to get back on track after the debacle last
year."


The debacle included Wie trying to play despite both wrists
being injured. She made only three cuts in nine starts, withdrew
twice and only broke par two times. She also endured harsh
criticism from Annika Sorenstam, who was angered by Wie pulling out
of the Swede's tournament, only to be seen hitting balls on the
range at the next tournament.


"She knows she's got to earn people's respect back," said
Leadbetter, who has been working with Wie this week at
ChampionsGate Resort outside Orlando, Fla. "She's grown up in some
ways. She seems a little more independent. She's a lot happier."


Wie finished her first semester at Stanford, and Leadbetter said
the family was trying to decide a balance between golf and school
for the spring semester. He said the plan was for a full schedule,
although it's no longer that simple.


Wie is not exempt for any of the majors, although she could try
to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open. If
she doesn't play against the men, that would leave her only eight
starts on the LPGA Tour, unless she complemented that with women's
events in Asia and Europe.


But she essentially will be starting from scratch.


"The sad part about it is if she had taken the year off, nobody
would think the less of her," Leadbetter said. "You don't go from
being in contention in every LPGA event to not being able to break
80 without something being wrong. Everybody was too gung-ho for her
to get out there and play. She used to leave high school for a
couple of days and be competitive. And it didn't happen this
year."


The Sony Open still will have a couple of teenagers from Hawaii
in the tournament that starts Jan. 10.


One exemption went to Tadd Fujikawa, who last year became the
youngest player in 50 years to make a cut on the PGA Tour. The Sony
Open also saves an unrestricted exemption for the low amateur in
local qualifying. That went to 17-year-old Alex Ching, Wie's former
classmate at Punahou School.


Wie and Ching were teammates in the Pro-Junior Skills Challenge
last year at the Sony Open, which they won in a playoff. Not many
could have guessed then that Ching would be the one who returned.