Sorenstam Seeks a Major Rally

Times Staff Writer

Before she arrived at Mission Hills Country Club last year, which was way before she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and leaped into that brackish lake wearing her flaming red shoes, Annika Sorenstam probably needed to cool off.

After all, she had already won tournaments in Australia and Hawaii, lost a playoff in a third and then she came to Rancho Mirage and won the first major of the LPGA season.

Now, look at what she has done so far this season -- a measly tie for third last week at Phoenix. That can lead to only one conclusion.

Sorenstam is slumping.


She has only herself to blame, due entirely to the level of her performance in 2002 when she won 11 LPGA Tour events and 13 worldwide, the most since Mickey Wright won the same number in 1963.

But this is a new season and Sorenstam is starting all over. Nowhere is that more important than in the four majors. The first of those begins Thursday with the 32-year-old Swede as two-time defending champion.

As usual with her, there’s history at stake. The only other player to win the same major three consecutive times is Patty Berg, who won the 1937-38-39 Titleholders Championship as an amateur.

The Titleholders is no longer a major, but at Mission Hills, this is a major major, given the historical perspective.

“I’m very familiar with the history of the LPGA and so forth,” Sorenstam said. “But you know, you stand on the first tee, I try not to think about those things.”

In that case, don’t worry, there are plenty of others to do the thinking. They are the other 98 players in the field, including the one who beat Sorenstam last week.

Se Ri Pak closed with a 64 at Phoenix and went so low, 23 under par, that she finished four shots clear of Sorenstam.

“Not just because I played better than her,” Pak said, explaining how it was done. “My game is much more improved than last year and that makes me feel much better too.”


Pak, 25, who won five times last year, says the rest of the LPGA recognizes the need to close the gap on Sorenstam. It’s all about playing better to catch her, Pak said.

“That’s the reason why, no question about it,” she said. “I mean, she’s a really strong player, mentally strong, physically strong and her game, well, every single year she just improves a lot.

“We all have to work hard to make sure we get a win in the year. Hopefully more than one. But Annika makes everyone work harder. You know, you won a tournament last week, but that doesn’t guarantee anything this week. That’s why I think the golf game is so hard.”

It was difficult enough last week for the third-place finisher.


Even so, Sorenstam said she was happy with her play at Phoenix, basically because it was her first event of the year. She found 19 under acceptable, although she couldn’t have been thrilled with closing with a 71.

There was no reason to be too hard on herself, Sorenstam seemed to say.

“I tried my best and actually I think I played really well,” she said. “I didn’t make too many birdies, but ... I felt really good about my game. I controlled the things I could control and [things] just didn’t turn out the way I wanted.”

That didn’t happen often last year when she won 11 of the 23 events she played, was second in three others and third in three more.


With 42 LPGA victories and four major titles already in the bank, her peer group has its work cut out for it, according to Nancy Lopez.

The 46-year-old Hall of Fame player was a 48-time winner on the LPGA Tour and knows what it will take for anyone to level the playing field with Sorenstam.

“I’m sure the players know they have to improve their games to beat Annika,” Lopez said. “There’s no easy way, or any other way, to do it. She’s not going to win every time because there are lot of good players out here, but she is No. 1.

“I don’t think Annika is just going to play one or two good years, either. I think she’s going to be around for a while. She’s got that kind of swing that’s built to last.”





Kraft Nabisco Championship


When: Thursday-Sunday.

Where: Mission Hills Country Club, Dinah Shore Tournament Course (6,520 yards, par 72), Rancho Mirage.

Purse: $1.6 million. Winner’s share: $240,000.

TV: ESPN2 (Thursday-Friday, 2-4 p.m.) and Channel 7 (Saturday, 1:30-3 p.m.; Sunday, 1-3 p.m.).


2002 winner: Annika Sorenstam.