Wie Adds to Master Class at Bighorn

Times Staff Writer

It’s 24 years old, or nine years older than Michelle Wie, and it’s moved around more than a traveling salesman, but the Samsung World Championship that begins Thursday at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert has some heavy hitters in the lineup -- besides the 10th grader from Honolulu.

Bighorn is the 13th site for the $825,000 event, which has become sort of an exclusive club over the years because of its small, elite field. This year’s version includes all four major winners -- Grace Park, Annika Sorenstam, Meg Mallon and Karen Stupples -- and the top players on the LPGA Tour.

And then there’s Wie, one of the most celebrated female amateurs, who turned 15 Monday.

She is the only nonpro in the field, only the sixth amateur to receive a special invitation and the first since Park in 1998.


Laura Davies, who earned a place for leading the Ladies European Tour order of merit, said she had no problem with Wie’s exemption.

“She’s our Tiger Woods,” Davies said. “I’m so glad she’s going to be in this event. If I had my way, she would be in every event we play because she has a bigger gallery than Annika now and that’s saying something.”

Wie is playing on a sponsor’s exemption for the sixth time this year, the maximum. She is paired with Sorenstam, a five-time winner this year and a three-time champion of this tournament, in the first round.

Wie dismissed a suggestion that the time she has spent playing professional events has caused her to miss out on normal teenage activities.

“I mean, I’m not stupid enough that I would not enjoy myself coming out here,” she said. “I’m not really that stupid. If I’m not enjoying myself, I wouldn’t be playing.

“I’m having a great time. I really enjoy coming out here, and it’s kind of fun, missing school.”


It may be that Sorenstam has something of a home-course advantage over the rest of the 20-player field. She used to own a house at Bighorn and she played the course teamed with Karrie Webb against Woods-David Duval in the prime-time Battle at Bighorn in 2001.

Sophie Gustafson is back as the defending champion. She won last year at The Woodlands in suburban Houston when she closed with a 64 and defeated Beth Daniel and Rachel Teske by two shots.

Sorenstam qualified as 2003’s leading money winner and for winning the LPGA Championship. Park won the Kraft Nabisco, Mallon the U.S. Women’s Open and Stupples the Women’s British Open.

Se Ri Pak is playing as the Vare Trophy winner for the lowest scoring average last year. The rest of the field comes from the LPGA’s current money list.