Sorenstam plenty motivated for Open

Memories spurring her on

Park aims to be in picture

July 01, 2004|By Bruce Berlet | Bruce Berlet,HARTFORD COURANT

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. - Since being pushed by Karrie Webb to become the real Annika Sorenstam, the Swede has put Tiger Woods to shame in the domination department.

Though one major victory short of Woods and still working on a Sorenstam Slam, the pride of Stockholm has won 29 of 74 starts with 54 top-five finishes, including 10 of 14 in the majors, since re-sculpturing her body and game.

But Grace Park, one of many Koreans in the women's game, is relishing the idea of claiming No. 1 before Sorenstam's departure to motherhood and other interests in the near future.

Park won the year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and finished third to Sorenstam in her successful defense in the LPGA Championship three weeks ago. Now, each has special incentive in the U.S. Women's Open, which begins today at The Orchards Golf Club.

Sorenstam's first tour victory came in the 1995 Open, which she also won in '96. But she has gone eight years without a victory in the most prestigious event in women's golf. And her last two attempts were agonizing.

Two years ago, she took a two-shot lead into the final round, only to see Juli Inkster sink putts from all directions in a closing 66 that left Sorenstam two back.

In 2003, Sorenstam again had her third Open title in sight, but a 4-wood second shot into the trees led to a closing bogey. She finished one stroke out of a three-way playoff won by Hilary Lunke.

"I think about that tournament quite a bit, especially the second shot on 18," Sorenstam said. "It's a par-5 and I was playing aggressively, going for the green, figuring a birdie will do it. Then I hit a bad shot at the wrong moment. I think about that shot a lot."

She said "it wasn't meant to be" when Inkster prevailed in 2002 and again proved how difficult it is to win a major.

"I believe sometimes that I want it so badly that I screw up," Sorenstam said. "But I've learned a little bit the last few years. I'm more patient. I hit one shot at a time. I've got to continue with that in my mind, and we'll see what happens this week."

It could be an omen that the 59th Women's Open is being played on a course designed by Donald Ross. Sorenstam's other Open titles were achieved on Ross designs, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C.

Her publicly stated quest to win all four majors in 2004 ended with a tie for 13th in the Kraft Nabisco, her only finish outside the top 10 in nine starts this year. But a victory Sunday would get her halfway to a Sorenstam Slam.

"Why not?" said Sorenstam, who leads the tour in victories (four), stroke average (69.10) and winnings ($1,054,654). "Those are some goals that I have. But that's putting a lot of pressure on myself, and I know that. I just didn't handle it well at Nabisco, then I won [the LPGA Championship], and I felt really good about it.

"This week, I want to come and play my best game. Winning four in a row is really, really hard, and that's why I haven't seen anybody do that. But I love a challenge."

Park loves the challenge of trying to overtake the Hall of Famer, whom she lost to in a playoff in the 2003 LPGA Championship. It was one of 19 top-10 finishes in a year in which Park was third on the money list.

NOTE: Sorenstam has committed to playing in the next three installments of the ADT Skills Challenge, a series of contests involving driving, bunker and trouble shots, and chipping. This year's event will be taped Nov. 15 at Trump International in Palm Beach, Fla., and will be aired by NBC in December.

Sorenstam will be the first woman to play in the event.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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