All eyes will be on the final pairing come Sunday afternoon when the champion is crowned in the 2003 Jamie Farr Kroger Classic, presented by ALLTEL.
And, whether the LPGA pros like it or not, all eyes will be on the final pairing in today's first round too.
Michelle Wie, already no stranger to the national golf stage at the age of 13, becomes the youngest competitor in the 19-year history of the Farr Classic as she starts off the No. 10 tee at 1:50 this afternoon in a pairing that includes tour veteran Michelle Estill and Japan's Namika Omata.
Wie will play in her fourth LPGA event this year as a sponsor exemption after making the cut in each of the previous three tournaments. She also went the distance in the U.S. Women's Open, where she finished tied for 39th in an event conducted by the United States Golf Association.
Wie's best finish in an LPGA tournament was a tie for ninth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a tour major, where a third-round 66 earned her a spot in the final group on Sunday.
Can she repeat such a performance this weekend at Highland Meadows Golf Club?
Wie would like to think so, despite an upset loss last week in the first round of the U.S. Women's Amateur in Philadelphia.
“I lost because of putting, so I've been working really hard on that this week,” Wie said. “I'm doing a lot better, so I'm really confident. I'm feeling pretty good about my game. If I can play under par I think I'll be happy.”
It will take a lot under par to win, though. Since the Farr reverted to 72 holes in 1997, the average winning score has been 15-under.
Wie is correct, however, in recognizing that chipping and putting is the name of the game at the Meadows, a tight and winding track that will play to just over 6,400 yards and features 10 par 4s of fewer than 400 yards in length.
“It's usually the case, and it is especially the case here, that whoever putts the best usually wins,” said defending champion Rachel Teske.
Teske proved that last year, and then rode a hot putter to back-to-back wins in June at LPGA events in Youngstown and Rochester.
“You play so well and putt so well and you expect it to continue,” Teske said. “But it doesn't. It leads to a little frustration. The last few weeks I haven't putted all that well, but I feel pretty good about my game now. The key is not wasting shots and chipping well enough to make some easy birdies.”
No one, perhaps, knows more about making easy birdies at Highland Meadows than Se Ri Pak, a three-time Farr Classic champion whose winning total in 1998 was a whopping 23 under par.
“I love this golf course,” Pak said. “There's no guarantee I'll always win, but I always feel good here.
“You have to play smart because there are some tricky holes. It's not a long golf course, but very narrow and tight with long rough and a lot of doglegs. How far you hit your driver is not a big factor. You have to control and shape shots. And you'd better putt well.”
Foreign-born players have dominated both the LPGA Tour and the Farr Classic of late. Kelly Robbins was the last American to win the Farr, that coming in 1997, while international players have scored wins in 24 of the last 30 tour events.
Pak, a Korean, and Teske, an Australian, will be among the favorites this week at the Meadows. And both have countrywomen who also figure to challenge for the top prize.
Karrie Webb, also an Aussie, is seeking her first win of the year after recording 28 titles, including six major championships, and amassing $9 million in earnings since 1995.
“Karrie is a great player,” Teske said. “Karrie has been in contention quite a bit and when you do that often enough things will fall your way. I'm sure she will win soon.”
Korea's Hee-Won Han owns two victories and a runner-up finish among her last four starts and is fresh from a win at last week's Wendy's Championship in Dublin, Ohio.
“She has really played well the last few weeks,” Pak said of Han, who she faced many times on the amateur level in Korea. “I have known her for a long time and I'm happy for her. I like to see all the Korean players do well. Everybody has the same goal to be the best. My goals have never changed. I want to be No. 1 in the rankings and on the money list.”
The winner of the Farr will take home $150,000 from a purse of $1 million.
The field of 144 players, which includes 13 of this season's top 25 LPGA money winners, will tee off in two waves off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees during today's and tomorrow's opening rounds. Today's tee times stretch from 7:30-9:20 a.m., and from noon-1:50 p.m.
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