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Archive for Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Sorenstam aiming to win out this season

If Swede goes 5-for-5 to end year, she’d break Wright’s single-season record of 13 tour victories

October 9, 2002

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What should be a victory lap for Annika Sorenstam has turned into a sprint to the finish. The Swede wants to win all five tournaments left on the LPGA Tour schedule to break Mickey Wright's record of 13 victories, set in 1963.

Impossible?

"I wouldn't have thought she could win nine," said Judy Rankin, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame and a golf analyst for ABC Sports. "I'm surprised, with the quality of players on the LPGA, that anyone can be this dominant. And she absolutely has been. It's astounding."

The numbers speak for themselves.

Sorenstam already has won half of the 18 tour events she's played, the same pace Wright set 39 years ago.

Take away the Women's British Open, the only cut she missed this year, and Sorenstam hasn't finished lower than third since May. Her scoring average is 68.55, nearly a full stroke lower than the record she set last year.

"I'm very happy with my season so far," she said. "But I have the chance to make it spectacular."

By winning at least three of the final five tournaments, Sorenstam could become golf's first $3 million woman. And if she wins them all, the record described as one "that may never be touched" on page 346 of the LPGA Tour media guide will belong to her.

"When you say, 'It may never be broken,' then you might start to believe it," said Sorenstam, who turns 32 Wednesday. "I don't believe in those things. It's possible, and that's what keeps me going forward."

She quickly is advancing into a realm of her own.

The notion of a "Big Three" in women's golf was still around as recently as July after Karrie Webb won the British Open, and Se Ri Pak won the LPGA Championship.

Sorenstam has separated herself so quickly, and by such a vast margin, that her biggest rival now appears to be Wright, perhaps the greatest female golfer ever, with a swing that Ben Hogan once said was the best he had ever seen.

Rankin has a good perspective on both players. She was an 18-year-old in her second season on the LPGA Tour when Wright set the record. As a broadcaster, Rankin now sees plenty of Sorenstam.

"I don't think Mickey thrived on competition or got wrapped up in competition. Mickey was wrapped up in excellence," Rankin said. "Annika can get wrapped up in both."

Sorenstam does not have the classic swing of Wright, but it is sweet and simple, and deadly accurate. She turns her head toward the fairway before making contact and is rarely surprised by the flight of the ball.

Sorenstam is fourth in driving accuracy, fifth in driving distance and leads the LPGA Tour in greens in regulation with an astounding 80 percent.

"I think she has become the most precise golfer we've ever known in women's golf," Rankin said. "When you couple that with strength and length, she's a little different than anyone we've had."

Sorenstam is the only woman to shoot 59 in competition, and the first to earn $2 million in one year. Her victory last week in the Samsung World Championship was the 40th of her career.

What sets her apart is her mind.

She talks openly about the perfect round 18 birdies for a score of 54, a concept preached to her by Swedish golf coach Pia Nilsson. That Sorenstam believes a 54 is remotely possible explains why she seeks perfection in a sport that has never granted anyone such a wish.

Her workout routine has made her the strongest, fittest player in women's golf.

Sorenstam already was the best woman off the tee, and a recent club switch made her drives longer and straighter. Despite winning six times this year, Sorenstam switched her putting grip to cross-handed at the Williams Championship in Tulsa, Okla., last month.

That was the first of three straight victories, a streak she takes to the Tournament of Champions this week in Mobile, Ala.

"She is not shy about uncovering weaknesses," Hall-of-Famer Carol Mann said. "And because she is able to uncover her weaknesses and solve them, that continues to propel her to become better and better."

Mann is one of only four women to have won at least 10 times in one season. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson are the only men to win that many events in one year.

Sorenstam probably will be the next.

"Success is seductive," Mann said. "When you're successful, you think that's all there is. You don't need to be any better. In her case, she has chosen to continue to look for improvement. And that's very rare."

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