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Little field seems a little off

Wie received exemption in May for Bighorn event, and Sorenstam declined an invitation.

October 11, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Lorena Ochoa, who is wrapping up her second consecutive player-of-the-year award, stands out as the top name in the field in the $1-million Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club, where those who are missing have become an issue as the first round starts today.

Only 20 players will tee it up at Palm Desert, chosen from the LPGA Tour's money list, plus one notable sponsor's exemption in Michelle Wie.

Wie celebrates her 18th birthday today, but there is another reason for the Stanford freshman to be happy. Not only is she getting a hall pass for missing a couple of days of school, she is certain to surpass her year's winnings of $9,898. Last place is $12,499, and there's no cut.

As it turns out, the cut came before the tournament even began.

Wie received and accepted the sponsor's exemption in May -- before she played her first LPGA event. Injuries to both wrists have limited Wie to seven tournaments this year.

Samsung's organizers wanted another big name, so last month they changed one of the exemptions, the option to invite the U.S. Women's Amateur champion, and instead made one up -- active Hall of Fame member. Annika Sorenstam got the invitation.

It sounded simple, even if you don't debate the wisdom of changing the eligibility rules on the fly, but it wasn't simple at all.

Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster are in the same category, and because neither was considered, and both were ahead of Sorenstam on the money list, Sorenstam refused to accept the sponsor's exemption. So next in line on the money list, Sarah Lee, got in.

Behind Lee on the list was Natalie Gulbis, the Evian Masters winner, but because Wie had the sponsor's invitation and they didn't go any lower than Lee on the money list, Gulbis is off this week too.

How all this affects sponsor Samsung, tournament owner IMG and Bighorn itself remain to be seen. There is already speculation that this could be the last edition of the event at Bighorn and that the tournament will move next year to another venue.

And so it goes in the 6,644-yard desert layout at Bighorn, the Canyons Course, where Sunday's winner will earn $250,000. Ochoa is the defending champion, closing with a seven-under 65 last year to come from three shots behind and defeat Sorenstam.

Ochoa is paired with Suzann Pettersen in the first round. Paula Creamer and Seon Hwa Lee are paired, as are Morgan Pressel, the Kraft Nabisco champion, with Maria Hjorth; and Wie with Angela Park.


THE FACTS Samsung World Championship * When: Today through Sunday. * Where: Bighorn Golf Club, Palm Desert. * TV: Today and Friday, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Golf Channel (delay); Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Ch. 4; Sunday, 1-3 p.m., Ch. 4

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