By Larry Fine
LANCASTER, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Michelle Wie delivered on more than a decade of lofty expectations last year when she broke through to win her first major championship at the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst.
But after a subsequent year of struggles with illness, injury and swing changes, the 25-year-old from Hawaii is hoping to climb the mountain again as she defends her title at Lancaster Country Club in the year's third major.
"It's definitely been a tough year with my game," Wie told reporters ahead of Thursday's opening round.
"It's definitely not been as good as I want to be. I've been struggling with a couple of injuries and illnesses.
"I'm taking it day-by-day. Every day feels better than the day before."
Wie, with her fluid, powerful swing, faces a difficult task at the long, hilly, rough-lined Lancaster course with its steeply sloping greens.
The 156-player field includes such formidable contenders as world number one Park In-bee, winner of five of the last 12 majors, 19-year-old number two Lydia Ko of New Zealand looking for her maiden major, and long-hitting Britanny "Bam-Bam" Lincicome, winner of 2015's opening major, the ANA Inspiration.
Now that Wie has finally experienced the thrill of winning a major, the former prodigy is determined to overcome her recent setbacks.
A case of strep throat gave her a strength-sapping fever at an early-season event and she then struggled through an upper-respiratory infection.
She wears a brace to compensate for an ankle injury and is lately coping with a case of bursitis in her hip that caused her recently to withdraw from tournaments.
As a concession to her injuries, she has narrowed her stance and adjusted her swing to reduce the stress on her body.
"I'm staying positive and just trying to improve a little bit here and there every day," she said.
Long gone are the days when the then-teenager spoke openly of her goal to compete with the best men in the world.
Wie these days would happily settle for success against her own gender and would love to add to her four career LPGA titles after an as yet fallow 2015 season that has dropped her to 17th in the rankings.
"It's great being called (U.S. Women's Open champion)," she said. "It doesn't get old.
"Seeing my trophy, getting the ring, has definitely been inspiring. It's definitely been a huge motivation for me moving forward.
"It's been a fun journey."
(Editing by ......)