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This Much Is Guaranteed: Wie Can Play

Times Staff Writer

The rumor mill is working overtime, trying to come up with Michelle Wie’s next move.

Will she turn pro?

Will she petition the LPGA for membership?

Will she play more PGA Tour events?

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Will she enter 11th grade?

There are a lot of questions, but there is a lot of time for the 15-year-old from Honolulu, who has spent the year answering the biggest one: Can she play?

Wie answered with the type of record a professional would want. In seven LPGA tournaments, Wie was second three times and third once. Playing in all four majors, Wie tied for 14th at the Kraft Nabisco, was second at the LPGA Championship, tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open after being tied for the lead through 54 holes, and tied for third last weekend at the British Open.

If she were a pro instead of an amateur, Wie would have made $663,363 in seven tournaments this year and ranked ninth on the LPGA money list.

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Wie returns to school in late August and says the notion of becoming a pro is still up in the air.

“I don’t know if I will decide or how I’m going to decide if I’m going to decide,” she said.

That’s covering all the bases, decision-wise. Speculation grows that when Wie turns 16 on Oct. 11, the week of the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, she’ll turn professional, sign with IMG and endorse Nike, which would dearly love to wrap her up in a head-to-toe deal for apparel and equipment as it has Tiger Woods.

That probably wouldn’t bring her the so-called “Tiger money” that she spoke about a year ago, but it could fall in the $20-million neighborhood for four or five years, according to Bob Williams of Burns Sports & Celebrities, a company that helps match advertisers with celebrities.

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“She has almost unlimited marketing potential, Tiger Woods-type,” Williams said.

Another insider who did not want to be identified, a former agent for high-profile pros, said Wie could be worth as much as $8 million a year to a powerful, image-making brand such as Nike, and with one or two other endorsements, Wie could pull down anywhere from $10 million to $15 million a year if she decides to turn pro, even at 16.

The LPGA has an age minimum of 18, but its constitution includes exceptions. If Wie chooses, she could apply for special permission for membership by demonstrating to LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens that she has the capacity to “assume professional and financial responsibilities” required of an LPGA player.

There’s no way Wie would be turned down. She just has to decide what she wants to do.

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Ratings game: The overnight ratings for CBS for the fourth round of the Buick Open, where Vijay Singh breezed past Woods, were down 14.6% from last year.

Too bad for CBS that there wasn’t any television of the post-tournament interviews, at least any that involved Woods, because it would have been a lot more interesting than the fourth-round blowout that Singh produced.

Woods refused to be interviewed, because he is feuding with Peter Kostis. Woods contends Kostis has botched reports of his swing changes and got tired of hearing about them. It’s not the first time Woods has stiff-armed TV interviewers -- he held a brief grudge with NBC’s Jimmy Roberts, who got under Woods’ skin by asking him about his “slump.”

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Singh has matched Woods with four victories, and he’s trailing slightly in the money race -- Woods has $7 million to Singh’s $6.8 million.

But Singh’s victory was his first since the Wachovia in May, while Woods has not finished lower than a tie for third since mid-May, a stretch that includes a tie for third at the Memorial, seconds at the U.S. Open and Western, a victory at the British Open and a tie for second last week at the Buick.

After ending Woods’ five-year run as the PGA Tour’s player of the year, Singh said nothing has been decided about who’s going to win it this year.

"[You] probably have to win another five or six more to get player of the year like last year,” Singh said. “It’s too early to count right now. There’s a lot more tournaments to go. Tiger is definitely the front-runner right now.”

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His tie for 60th at the British Open is a distant memory for Phil Mickelson, who has some other thoughts on his mind this week. First, he got an up-close look at Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J., where the PGA Championship will be staged next week, and played practice rounds Sunday and Monday. Then it was off to visit short-game guru Dave Pelz at his camp in Vail, Colo., then on to Denver for the International.

By the way, Woods ran into Mickelson on Monday at Baltusrol, where he played 36 holes in about five hours with swing coach Hank Haney.

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This week

PGA TOUR

The International

* When: Today-Sunday.

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* Where: Castle Pines Golf Club (7,619 yards, par 72); Castle Rock, Colo.

* Purse: $5 million. Winner’s share: $900,000.

* TV: USA (today-Friday, 4-6 p.m., delayed) and Channel 2 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).

* 2005 winner: Rod Pampling.

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* Next week: PGA Championship at Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J.

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CHAMPIONS TOUR

3M Championship

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* When: Friday-Sunday.

* Where: TPC of the Twin Cities (7,100 yards, par 72); Blaine, Minn.

* Purse: $1.75 million. Winner’s share: $262,500.

* TV: Golf Channel (Friday-Sunday, 3-5:30 p.m.).

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* 2005 winner: Tom Kite.

* Next event: Boeing Greater Seattle Classic, Aug. 19-21.


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