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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2007

Pressel perfectly prepared

Morgan Pressel is the anti-Wie.

Her golf career has been orchestrated by loved ones, but not manipulated or rushed, only guided by gentle hands, no bite ever bigger than she could chew.

She received the necessary instruction, cut her teeth on junior tournaments, stepped up to the big-time amateur ranks, got a taste of professional play, then made the move to the LPGA at a tender age.

The 19-year-old Pressel played like a wily veteran yesterday at Highland Meadows, carding a rather astounding 64 amidst whipping winds to jump into the final group for today's closing round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

It is hard not to compare her situation with that of Michelle Wie. They are of similar ages and at one time had similar potential. Driven to the proverbial fork in the road, though, one turned to the right and the other to the wrong.

Wie all but bypassed an amateur career where she could profit by a variety of experiences and learn to win. She was led into certain arenas of competition before she was ready and, more recently, hurried back from injury before she was ready. She hasn't broken par in so long that the last time would make for a good trivia question. Instructors have altered her swing, advisers have charted a path paved mostly in dollar signs, her own attitude has ruffled feathers with many pros. She is a confused, lost child.

There are some who feel Wie still will be the next big thing in women's golf and they may be right. She has talent galore. The biggest fear right now, as Nancy Lopez articulated so well the other day, is that her spirit has been broken.

Morgan Pressel, meanwhile, is as spirited as they come. And she hopes to make a spirited bid today as she trespasses in Se Ri Pak Land. Pressel, who is two shots in arrears, and Pak, gunning for a fifth Farr Classic title, should decide things between them in the final pairing.

"I won't have to wonder what she's doing," Pressel said of Pak. "I'll be watching and I'll know what I need to do. This is a golf course that definitely gives up birdies. I just have to go find them."

If she has any trouble,

Mikaela Schulz will be there to help. Mikaela is 5 years old, or as she insists, almost 6. She is Pressel's cousin and while Morgan wears a ball cap with "Callaway" across the front, Mikaela wears one displaying Tigger, Pooh and Piglet. Her contract, apparently, is with Disney.

Anyway, during Friday's second round, when Pressel was slapping it around with few good results, she left the seventh green, walked over to the ropes, and ate some of Mikaela's ice cream. She immediately scored her first birdie of the day on No. 8. Yesterday, she sampled Mikaela's ice cream after a par on No. 7 and birdied the next three holes.

"She thinks it's all her," Morgan said, laughing.

Maybe not, but it is all about family for Pressel.

From the start, her career has been shaped and steered by grandparents Herb and

Evelyn Krickstein, who first went through this type of thing years ago with their son, Aaron, a tennis star who once rose to the No. 6 ranking in the world.

Morgan, coincidentally, is currently ranked No. 6 in the world.

Herb is the technician, Evelyn the cheerleader and confidante. She said she didn't worry when Morgan opted to skip college and turn pro at such a young age.

"Herb took her up every step, one step at a time," Evelyn said. "Sometimes, there comes a time when you're ready and you just have to grasp it. It was like Tiger Woods. You have to give his father a lot of credit. You can't program a child. You guide them and when the time is right you back off and let them do things and think on their own. That's what [Earl Woods] did. That's what we've tried to do."

Only after Pressel dominated the amateur scene, and only after a runner-up finish in the 2005 U.S. Women's Open, was the decision made to jump to the LPGA. She earned $465,000 without a victory last year, but broke through in the biggest possible way earlier this season, becoming the youngest major championship winner ever with a victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"My grandparents were instrumental every step of the way," Pressel said. "I played in the right tournaments. I got all the right experience. They pushed me when I needed pushed and backed away when I needed space.

"I can't speak about anybody else," she added, leaving that anybody else nameless. "But I've gotten the experience and guidance I needed to compete at every level. Now I'm here."

Here and winning. She just might do it again today. She is, after all, the anti-Wie.



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