Sorenstam back to start at Cherry Hills

Colorado is where Swede burst on scene in major way

Golf

June 14, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

From the moment Annika Sorenstam began distancing herself from the rest of the field at the $1.8 million McDonald's LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, everyone there seemed to be thinking ahead to next week's U.S. Women's Open.

Everyone except Sorenstam, that is.

"I worked hard for this and I want to enjoy it," Sorenstam, 34, said after finishing off a three-shot victory over amateur sensation Michelle Wie to become the first LPGA player in 19 years to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam. "I don't want to start thinking about something two weeks from now."

But others are. The 60th U.S. Women's Open represents a return to the beginning of Sorenstam's legend. It was in the thin Colorado air 10 years ago at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs that Sorenstam, then an unknown Swede on the European Tour, took advantage of Meg Mallon's late collapse to win the Women's Open, her first LPGA Tour victory.

This week, Sorenstam is savoring the ninth major championship of her career, her 62nd victory overall and her sixth in eight events this season.

But she shouldn't think that just because she wants to relax - or at least play a few fun rounds, like the one she was scheduled to play yesterday at prestigious Pine Valley in South Jersey or the one today at fabled Merion outside Philadelphia - that others can't start focusing on Cherry Hills in the suburbs of Denver.

"I think I kick-started someone's career," Mallon said last month at Cherry Hills, where she will defend the title she won last year at the Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass., by two strokes over Sorenstam.

Mallon took a four-shot lead into the final round at The Broadmoor, only to bogey the third hole and triple-bogey the fourth. She would end up losing to Sorenstam by a stroke.

"That's a bad memory," Mallon said. "On the shortest hole in U.S. Open history, I make a triple, and a young Swedish girl by the name of Annika played steady golf to win. If someone told me that I would win another U.S. Open, it probably would have been easier to take. But back then, it would be heartbreaking."

Sorenstam would successfully defend her title the next year at Pine Needles in North Carolina, but has found her own disappointment in the intervening years. After missing the cut in 1997 and 1999, Sorenstam finished second and fourth the past two years.

Asked Sunday if her wins seem inevitable to her competition, Sorenstam said: "I don't look at it that way. I mean, maybe all of you [in the media] do. I want you to understand that it's very tough out here. The competition is tough and you can't take anything for granted."

The biggest obstacle for Sorenstam is whether she can regenerate her competitive batteries after only a week off. Because of her own scheduling - she played the last three weeks, including the LPGA Championship - Sorenstam will tee it up in majors in back-to-back events.

"I don't make the schedule, I've got to take what we've got," she said. "I'll do whatever I can to be ready. I don't think I've ever had that [two majors in a row] before."

Sorenstam said she doesn't know what to expect at Cherry Hills, since she has been there only once for a corporate outing earlier this year. It snowed, and she only got to see some of the course from the confines of the clubhouse. Given the length - 6,749 yards - it will certainly help the longest hitter on the LPGA Tour.

But Sorenstam isn't thinking about the Grand Slam, or the Women's Open, just yet.

On Sunday night, her thoughts were only about playing golf for fun for a couple of days, first at Pine Valley and then at Merion.

"No competition," she said.

Sounds like more of what she's faced on the LPGA Tour.

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