Sorenstam reigns on

Swede coasts to 3rd LPGA in row, keeps Slam hopes intact by beating Wie by 3

Lpga Championship

Bulle Rock Golf Course, Havre de Grace

June 13, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

If yesterday's final round of the $1.8 million McDonald's LPGA Championship was merely about golf, it might be remembered more for what didn't happen than for what did. Few on the leader board made much of a move and nobody threatened Annika Sorenstam's march to her ninth major championship.

Except for the battle to finish second, there was little drama on a hot and breezy afternoon at Bulle Rock Golf Course. Sorenstam saw a five-shot lead going into the day bulge to eight by the turn before she settled for a three-stroke victory over teenage phenom Michelle Wie.

As often is the case with Sorenstam, history superseded hype.

As has become custom with Wie, hype and history were intertwined.

The result for the 34-year-old Swede was rather routine - Sorenstam finished at 11-under-par 277 after a 1-over-par 73 that included bogeys on the last two holes - but the significance of the victory was certainly not when put in context of her legendary career.

It was Sorenstam's 62nd win overall, her sixth in eight events this year and her second in as many weeks. Sorenstam became the first LPGA player to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam since Pat Bradley in 1986 and the first player in the modern era to win the same major championship three years in a row.

With her victory, the pressure will continue to mount on Sorenstam as she prepares for the U.S. Women's Open next week at Cherry Hills outside Denver. No player in modern LPGA history has ever won the first three legs. The legendary Babe Zaharias won all three majors played in 1950.

"I know it's going to be a lot of pressure," said Sorenstam, who will take a week off from the tour. "That's a goal I set, and if I want to achieve my goal, that's what I'm going to have to accept. Right now I want to absorb this. I'm just very proud of what I've done and I want to let it settle into my heart as well."

Sorenstam was admittedly nervous from the moment she teed off before a raucous crowd that was part of the 29,900 who came to watch yesterday. She said playing with the huge lead was difficult in terms of maintaining her concentration.

"It's almost tougher to hold the lead than to chase somebody because then you know what you've really got to do," she said. "I try to tell myself how to think when you have a lead, focus on your own game, don't look at the leader board so much. But it's easier said than done."

Asked why she was nervous, she said, "It's Sunday, a major championship, a lot at stake, three in a row, you name it, I could probably name 10 things why I was nervous."

It didn't show, at least not until the end.

Sorenstam went up six shots on her playing partner, Young Kim, when the 25-year-old South Korean bogeyed the opening hole; seven when Sorenstam birdied the par-3 third hole and eventually eight shortly after making another birdie putt on the par-3 seventh.

"She's just better when she has to do it," said Terry McNamara, Sorenstam's caddie for the past 5 1/2 years. "When you've got a five-stroke lead or a six-stroke lead or a four-stroke lead, what do you have to do? You don't know, it's not so defined. When it's defined, she's better."

The race for second was a lot more exciting, turning into a shootout that Wie won with a final round of 3-under 69. In beating 18-year-old rookie Paula Creamer and two-time LPGA champion Laura Davies by two shots, Wie became the first amateur since Timonium's Jenny Chuasiriporn in 1998 to finish second in a major. Chuasiriporn lost in a 20-hole playoff in the U.S. Women's Open to Se Ri Pak.

While Sorenstam won a first-place check for $270,000 and a sterling silver trophy, all Wie received in lieu of the $164,385 she passed up were cheers from the gallery, a few pats on the back, and an unofficial invitation to return next year from tournament co-founder Herb Lotman. Creamer and Davies benefited from Wie's amateur status, each receiving a check worth more than third place.

Joked Wie, the first amateur to play in the event: "Good for her, she better give me some of that. Just kidding. I really don't care about that kind of stuff."

The reaction to Sorenstam's latest victory was one of sheer admiration from her peers after winning her fifth major championship in the past 10 and her 10th victory in her past 14 events. It marked the seventh straight time and 10th time in the past 11 events that Sorenstam won after holding or sharing the 54-hole lead.

"Just to play at the level of golf she plays, week in and week out, is hard," said Karrie Webb, the last player to be ranked No. 1 before Sorenstam. "Anything's possible with her. She's breaking her own records now and breaking ones that people thought would never be broken."

Said Davies, another former No. 1 player who was in contention until Sorenstam started to distance herself on Saturday, "She's the most dominating sports person in the world right now. Maybe ever. She's extraordinary, and I don't think people appreciate what she's done."

It even surprises Sorenstam.

"I have to be honest, I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I look at my results," said Sorenstam. "I feel like I'm just a little girl from Sweden that came over here to follow my dreams and hope to win a few tournaments. I get overwhelmed, definitely. I want to be able to absorb everything and just cherish every moment."

Hole of the day: No. 18

The finishing hole would have made for great drama if Annika Sorenstam hadn't run away with the tournament at the turn. Her five on No. 18, a picturesque 385-yard par-4 in which the hole was placed back left, was the 27th bogey there in the fourth round, when it was the hardest hole. It surrendered only six birdies, and Natalie Gulbis and Moira Dunn were the only players among the top 15 for the tournament to close with 3s.

Leader board

The winner ...

A. Sorenstam 68-67-69-73-277

... and selected followers

M. Wie 69-71-71-69-280

P. Creamer 68-73-74-67-282

L. Davies 67-70-74-71-282

Complete scores, 9D

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