Sorenstam tries to check Open off her Slam list

2 majors down, she bids for third at Cherry Hills

Golf

June 23, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

For an innately shy person, Annika Sorenstam has a way of causing a whole lot of commotion.

She did it two years ago by becoming the first woman in more than half a century to play in a PGA Tour event. She never thought the kind of attention she generated at Colonial despite missing the cut there could be duplicated or even exceeded.

She figured wrong.

When the 60th U.S. Women's Open begins today at Cherry Hills, outside Denver, the 34-year-old Swede will be chasing her third straight major championship this year in pursuit of finishing off the Grand Slam in next month's British Open at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.

"I am only halfway," Sorenstam said at a news conference yesterday. "I want to say that these next two will be the toughest two."

Asked if she is having difficulty separating winning another tournament and making history, Sorenstam said: "I guess the next four days will show that. I think golf is such a mental game. I am trying to keep my emotions intact, just trying to focus on the things that I can control.

"Right now, the way I look at it, my golf ball has no idea where I am."

Sorenstam is not far from where her Hall of Fame career took off, about 60 miles south at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. That is where Sorenstam, a member of the European tour after her college career at Arizona ended, won the 1995 U.S. Women's Open. It was her first LPGA Tour victory.

"Ten years is a long time," said Sorenstam, the first player in 19 years to win the first two majors in a season. "I think a lot of things have happened since then. I'd like to say that I am a totally different player today. At The Broadmoor, I don't want to use the word `fluke,' but it was kind of a fluke that I won."

It was the first of her nine major titles and 62 career victories overall. She is third behind fellow Hall of Famers Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82) in victories, fifth in major championships behind Berg (15), Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11) and Babe Zaharias (10).

With Tiger Woods losing to Michael Campbell in the men's U.S. Open on Sunday, ending his chase this year of the Grand Slam, the stage belongs to Sorenstam.

Just as Woods dubbed his run of four straight majors in 2000 and 2001 the "Tiger Slam," this one has a name, too.

It's being called the "Soren-Slam."

With victories in six of her eight events this year, including a recent three-stroke win in the McDonald's LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Sorenstam is viewed by many of her peers as invincible.

"I don't think we're going to see another player like her for 50 or 100 years," said Christie Kerr, who is ranked second behind Sorenstam on this year's money list. "Definitely, when you see her name up on the leader board, she intimidates a lot of people."

One player who might not be intimidated this week is 15-year-old amateur Michelle Wie. The 6-foot phenom from Hawaii finished second to Sorenstam in Maryland two weeks ago, Wie's best performance in a major to date, and playing in the thin air of the Rockies could enhance her power game.

Ironically, Sorenstam's pursuit of a Grand Slam continues on a course on which Arnold Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open over another amateur phenom, a 20-year-old from Ohio named Jack Nicklaus, after winning the Masters earlier that year.

Asked if he planned on playing in the British Open -- something that wasn't a given in those days -- Palmer reportedly said, "I'm going for the Grand Slam." As it turned out, Palmer's bid was stopped by Australian Kel Nagle at St. Andrews.

Sorenstam has heard the stories about Palmer, about how he put his drive onto the green on the downhill, par-4 first hole in the final round, made birdie and used the momentum of that shot to beat Nicklaus by two strokes. The significance of the setting is not lost on Sorenstam.

"I do know a little bit about the history of the game and I know this course has been part of it," she said yesterday. "That's why I think it's really kind of neat that we're here this year and for me to come here with the goal in mind."

U.S. Women's Open

When: Today through Sunday

Where: Cherry Hills Country Club, Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

Course: Par 71, 6,749 yards

TV: ESPN2-today-tomorrow, 5-9 p.m.; chs. 11, 4-Saturday, 3-6 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m.

Defending champion: Meg Mallon

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