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Looking Out for No. 1

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Annika Sorenstam has some bad news for the rest of the LPGA Tour.

“I’m motivated to perform again,” she said.

Sorenstam, the third-leading money winner on the 1997 tour, is the highest-ranked player competing in the Los Angeles Women’s Championship at Oakmont Country Club this weekend. She returns to the tour after a month-long hiatus.

She won the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January, a week after getting married.

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She skipped the last two tournaments and spent time with her new husband, David Esch.

But Sorenstam, one of several players from Sweden on tour, has come to Glendale looking to pick up where she left off.

“I want to play,” she said. “I’m ready to play. I’m driving the ball well, I just have to catch up with my timing.”

Sorenstam broke through in 1995 with three tournament victories, the Rolex player of the year award and the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average on tour.

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She followed that by winning three tournaments in 1996, leading the tour with 33 rounds in the 60s, finishing in the top 30 in 19 of the 20 tournaments she played, and winning the Vare Trophy for the second consecutive year.

She was the top-ranked women’s player in the world.

But Sorenstam felt as if she lost focus in 1996 trying to top 1995, when she became the first player to be the leading money winner on the LPGA and European LPGA tours in the same season.

“I would think about that every day,” she said. “I would be thinking, ‘What is it that I want from my golf game?’ I had some times in the middle of last year where I was not motivated. [1995] was a hard year to follow because I had already reached so many goals.”

This year, she said the key is in the numbers.

“I like numbers,” she said. “I look at my scoring average all the time and I try and improve that. I make up goals.”

Right now those goals include getting her game back in shape after missing the last two tournaments, something she said might be tough after marriage put a new perspective on golf.

“If I don’t shoot par it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “I know somebody still loves me.”

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Despite never having played Oakmont before, it is a good place for Sorenstam to rejoin her peers.

Emilee Klein, whose parents are members at Oakmont and who has played the course countless times, said it is a U.S. Open-type course. Sorenstam, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion, is all smiles about that.

“I like this type of course,” she said. “I play well in tournaments where scores are not that low.”

This tournament should definitely fit that mold. It was one of the highest-scoring tournaments on tour during its first incarnation from 1985 to 1987. Players are already talking about how fast the greens are, meaning scores will probably be high.

“You’ll have to have a good week to win,” Sorenstam said. “A lot of people have respect for this course.”


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