Archive for Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Sizzling Sorenstam streaking into history

LPGA standout seeks sixth straight victory this week in Michelob Ultra Open

May 4, 2005


Six months ago, Annika Sorenstam was in South Korea when something strange happened.

She didn't win.

That seems hard to fathom these days because Sorenstam hasn't lost since. The following week in Japan, she won the Mizuno Classic by nine shots to start a streak that has reached five consecutive victories, matching the LPGA Tour record set by Nancy Lopez in 1978.

The biggest difference is that Sorenstam has built her streak over six months; Lopez did it in six weeks.

Sorenstam hasn't even played in five weeks, taking the longest break of her season after winning her eighth career major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Next up is the Michelob Ultra Open this week at Kingsmill, and a chance to make history with her sixth win in a row.

"One in a row is a good run," Juli Inkster deadpanned. "I can't imagine five in a row."

Even more difficult is imagining anyone capable of beating her.

Sorenstam's run is similar to what Tiger Woods did at the end of the 1999 season and the start of 2000, when he won six straight PGA Tour events and made everyone wonder -- ever so briefly -- whether Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight wins in 1945 really was out of reach.

It was -- at least by a man.

Sorenstam simply looks unstoppable.

"She doesn't do anything bad," Inkster said. "It's not like she's overpowering. If she gets in trouble, she doesn't knock it around or over the trees. She gets it back in the fairway and gets on the green."

Sorenstam has become the most dominant player in golf, with 28 victories and five majors in her last 61 starts. Woods won 19 times in 38 starts on the PGA Tour from 1999 to 2001, five of those majors. He separated himself so much from his peers that it raised two questions that now must be asked of Sorenstam.

Is she that good?

Or is the competition that bad?

"It's a bit of both, much like it was with him," said Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer who now works as a TV analyst. "I thought at one time when he was so good, these players were going to have to tag-team him; if one wasn't there every week, the other had to be. And I think that's true in women's golf.

"She is good to the point that four or five of the next best players have to tag-team her and not make it easy for her, not make it where she wins by eight."

But who are they?

The next two players on the LPGA money list, Lorena Ochoa and Cristie Kerr, have not won this year, and both have lost final-round leads to Sorenstam. Kerr shot a 75 on the final day in Mexico; Ochoa had a four-shot lead with three holes in Phoenix and wound up losing in a playoff.

Inkster, 44, overcame a two-shot deficit against Sorenstam to beat her in the 2002 U.S. Women's Open, but she failed to win last year for the first time since 1996. Meg Mallon stared down Sorenstam to win the Women's Open last year, but she is 42 and has struggled early in the season.

Karrie Webb is on a slow road of swing changes. Grace Park -- the last player to beat Sorenstam -- is searching for consistency and dealing with an injury. Se Ri Pak appears lost. Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie still are in high school.

"It's not that we're bad," Inkster said. "We're just not as consistent as her. We don't get things done easily."

Woods' winning streak on the PGA Tour ended at Torrey Pines, and then he created an even wider gap by winning four consecutive majors, two of them runaways.

That might be where Sorenstam is headed.

She has a swing that repeats itself better than anyone in golf. And with 59 career victories, the 34-year-old Swede now can aim at Kathy Whitworth's record of 88 career victories.

But topping the list is the Grand Slam, and she already took care of the first leg by winning Nabisco by eight shots.

If the winning streak were more important, she would not have taken five weeks off. Instead, she returns at a time when she can allow her game to peak for the LPGA Championship on June 9-12, followed by the U.S. Women's Open two weeks after that.

And it's not unreasonable to believe the streak might be going strong through the majors.

Sorenstam is that good.

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