LPGA rookies eye breakthrough in Arkansas

ROGERS, Ark. (AP) - Michelle Wie might not even be the most watched rookie at this week's LPGA Tour event.

Stacy Lewis, who won the 2007 NCAA championship while at the University of Arkansas, will be on familiar turf for the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship. Lewis was the first-round leader at this event two years ago, when the rest of it was called off because of bad weather.

"It's become home for me the last couple years, so it's so nice to be back and sleeping in my own bed this week," Lewis said. "It's always fun to play this golf course. It's one I've played since I came here in school."

Pinnacle Country Club is about a 15-minute drive from where Lewis went to college, and she's played in this event since it started in 2007. Last year Lewis finished tied for 49th. She said she was exhausted after a week of distractions.

Lewis hasn't won on tour, but she led the U.S. Women's Open after three rounds last year before finishing five shots back. That only increased expectations for the Rogers event, and Lewis struggled after a good start.

"It was the week after the U.S. Open, and just the magnitude of that. I wasn't prepared for it," Lewis said. "I was looking forward to this year, because I knew what to expect. I knew what was coming, and I knew the week was going to be busy."

Wie, of course, is also trying for her elusive first win. Like Lewis, she showed potential long before this, her rookie season on the LPGA Tour. Wie finished in the top five of four straight majors in 2005-06, and although she struggled after that, she's now showing signs of a breakthrough. She's 17th on the money list this year despite missing the cut last weekend at the Canadian Women's Open.

"I think it's, you know, a learning experience for me. I have never done this before. My parents have never done this before," Wie said. "So I make really good decisions, which I'm proud of, and I make bad decisions, which I learn from."

Wie has finished in the top 10 six times this year and helped the U.S. win the Solheim Cup last month. She went 3-0-1 in that event, showing some of the form that made her a phenom before she was sidetracked by injuries and other missteps.

"I've known her since she was 12 years old, and we've become very good friends. She is a great kid. She really is," said Cristie Kerr, the tour's leading money winner this year. "And I say 'kid' because she's still 19. I'm 31 now."

Wie should be a crowd favorite again this week, but she'll have plenty of company, from hometown hope Lewis to other big names like Kerr, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim.

Creamer has been battling the flu and bronchitis recently.

"I'm starting to get my strength back," she said Wednesday. "I haven't been able to work out just because my body's been so weak."

Seon Hwa Lee is also in the field after winning the event last year.

Lewis said she's happy with the field, considering the tournament is sandwiched between last weekend's event in Canada and next weekend's in California.

"I think this tournament is starting to become a better event every year," Lewis said. "Good players are talking about it more early in the season and looking forward to it."

Just imagine how popular the tournament would be if the weather would cooperate. The 2007 event was called off after 18 holes, and rain was a factor last year too. This week, Wednesday's Pro-Am was shortened because of rain.

"I think it's going to be a long week again," Lewis said. "When the LPGA comes to town, the rain comes to town."

The event is presented by John Q. Hammons.


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