SUMMIT, N.J. – Michelle Wie put on a show Monday that those lucky enough to see won't soon forget.
Trying to become the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open, the 16-year-old from Hawaii sent an overflow gallery into a frenzy by chipping in for birdie on her last hole for a 2-under 68. That matched her best score competing against men and left some 3,500 people wondering if they would see her at Winged Foot in two weeks along with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
But the birdie putts she missed throughout the day began to catch up with her as shadows stretched across the fairways of Canoe Brook Country Club late in the afternoon. Consecutive bogeys on her back nine dropped her back to even par, and Wie needed to do something spectacular even by her standards to make history and earn one of 18 spots in the open up for grabs at this sectional qualifying tournament.
Even so, the atmosphere was electric.
Interest was so high that Canoe Brook Country Club had to close its gates shortly before lunch, fearful they could not accommodate so many people watching one player. The USGA credentialed nearly 300 media.
Wie made a slippery 5-foot par on her ninth hole of the second round on the tougher North course. That kept her at 2 under par for the 36-hole qualifier, and as she strode confidently toward her back nine, she glanced over at large scoreboard. It didn't tell her anything, but Wie knew what she had to do.
Scores were only available after each nine holes, but it appeared she needed to reach at least 3 under par. Brett Quigley finished his two rounds at 11-under 131 and easily qualified.
"Somebody asked me if I was worried she was going to beat me," he said. "I said, 'I don't care if she beats me as long as I get in."'
Wie has played eight tournaments against the men, making the cut for the first time last month at the SK Telecom Open in South Korea on the Asian Tour. This required a little more.
Wie was among 153 players trying to qualify for the U.S.Open at Canoe Crook, including about four dozen PGA Tour players, two of them major champions. A sudden-death playoff would follow to determine the 18 qualifiers.
The fans lined every fairway from tee to green. When Wie was putting for birdie, which was often, the fans stood in the fairway to form a full circle on the green, although they often were disappointed.
Wie missed six birdie putts inside 12 feet in her morning round on the shorter, easier South course, a 4-footer on the fourth hole. At one point she became so frustrated that she puffed her cheeks and let out a sigh, staring at the hole with her arms crossed.
"The greens are difficult for her. So many subtle breaks," her father, B.J. Wie, said as he followed her.
But she kept bogeys off her card, the first time she has ever done that against the men. And her outlook changed dramatically on her final hole of the morning round. After a drive into the right rough that came within 15 feet of going into the water, she hit her approach to the grassy knoll atop a bunker.
Her chip was strong and smacked into the pin before dropping for an unlikely birdie. Wie raised her arms in surprise, and the cheers were so loud they drowned out her parents. Wie sat at the scoring table off the 18th green, surrounded by a dozen cameras who watched her go through the simple task of checking her scores and signing her card.
Wiemania, indeed, reached another level.
She asked for relief from casual water on the par-4 15th in the morning round, but stated her case by pressing her feet around the ball. USGA official Jim Litrack denied relief.
"I have no doubt there's water under her ball, but she wasn't taking her stance," Litrack said.
One fan said to the official, "I bet if it was Arnie you'd give him the drop." But it didn't matter, as Wie piped a 5-wood from 217 yards to the middle of the green and got her par. After she hit the 5-wood, three grown men circled her divot and gawked as if they had discovered gold.
Sectional qualifiers typically draw a few hundred people, most of those family or friends. The crowd tagging along after Wie was about the same size as the one watching Mickelson play in the Memorial on Sunday.
And it caused a few problems, as expected.
As she made her way to the 10th tee on the North course to start her second round, hundreds of people followed behind her and caused players on the 12th green to back off their shots, one caddie raising his arms in disgust.
Quigley was on an adjacent hole when Wie made birdie on the 17th in the afternoon.
"I was getting ready to tee off and I heard people going wild through the woods," Quigley said. "I figured she'd made a birdie. It was great to see people so energized."
But this wasn't a typical U.S. Open qualifier.
Wie has been charting her own path since she qualified for an LPGA Tour event at age 12. She became the youngest winner of a USGA championship for grown-ups in 2003 when at 13 she won the U.S. Amateur Public Links. And in the two LPGA Tour events she has played this year between time off from her junior year at Punahou School in Honolulu, she has finished one shot out of a playoff.
She couldn't afford any mistakes in her second round, and one came quickly on her opening hole when she found a fairway bunker, had to lay up short of the green and missed a 15-foot par putt.
She had more chances for birdie, but the biggest putts were for par — a 7-footer on the 12th and a 12-footer on the 16th. Hopes were raised anew when she pounded a drive down the middle of the 17th fairway, so far that former U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett reached the first ball in the fairway, bent over to look at it to see if it belonged to Wie, then waved at her to keep walking.
Wie hit her approach into 8 feet and finally got a birdie to drop.
No matter how the day ended, Wie was headed to the LPGA Championship after her round for another crack at a major, this time against the women.