Here's what John Riegger, the journeyman PGA Tour pro who wants to
play Annika Sorenstam straight up for $1 million, doesn't get.
Big bad John has more golf skill than Sorenstam. Whoop-de-do. So
do Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. But the great Swede beats Webb and
Pak more often than not for the same reason she could beat
Riegger on any given day. Her head is superior. No golfer's is
better. ¬∂ It wasn't always that way, but the past month has seen
a transformation in Sorenstam. Last week, at the McDonald's LPGA
Championship at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del.,
Sorenstam defeated 144 golfers, including Webb, Pak and Grace
Park (her principal foe on Sunday) to win the fifth major title
of her 10-year career. Had Riegger been in the field, she would
have taken him down, too. Webb and Pak and Riegger are stronger
out of the rough and stiff more chip shots and hole more short
putts than Sorenstam does. But in all of golf there is only one
person as devoted, body and soul, to winning, and Tiger Woods
wasn't competing anywhere last week. On the DuPont course that
the women played, 6,408 yards long and oozing water, Sorenstam
might have beaten him, too.
For the past half decade, Webb, who's in a severe funk at the
moment, and Pak have been Sorenstam's main rivals, but in the
astonishing three-week run Sorenstam just concluded, she faced a
revolving door of challengers. Three weeks ago, at the Bank of
America Colonial, she was, in effect, playing Vijay Singh and
everyone else who felt that a lady pro had no place in a PGA Tour
event. Without a pause, she won by three shots over Mhairi McKay
and a less daunting field a week later at the Kellogg-Keebler
Classic, outside Chicago. At the LPGA Championship, Park was her
The ever-stylish Park, her usually exposed navel sadly covered
because of Sunday's cool mist, was two groups in front of
Sorenstam. At 5:22 p.m., in a women's golf event that CBS
actually broadcast live, Park finished her final round, in the
house at 278, six under par. A minute later Sorenstam, two groups
back and in the final threesome, was on the 18th tee, also six
under and needing birdie to win, par for sudden death. Bogey or
worse was not an option.
Annika, her first-name-only status confirmed, is no Tiger. Her
opponents don't start quivering like schoolgirls when she's way
north on the leader board late on Sunday. (Maybe they would if
she putted better.) Park, for instance, shot a final-round 67,
five shots better than Sorenstam. But mentally--this will sound
hyperbolic only to those who haven't been watching
lately--Sorenstam is a Hogan, a Nicklaus. In the final round she
had a four-shot lead and watched it dwindle to nothing, but she
never doubted she would win.
Her weekend was a long one. On Saturday morning she got in only
three holes before play was suspended at 9:55 a.m. as a drenching
rain turned greens and bunkers into small ponds. The wait for
Sunday, a day in which she would have to play at least 33 holes,
seemed endless. She watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Her take:
"Really funny.") That ate up two hours. It left her with 18 more
to go before her Sunday tee time. She did what most golfers in
that situation cannot do. She actually rested.
Her play was a little ragged on Sunday afternoon, but she got up
and down four times in the final nine holes to keep hope alive.
This was a tournament she needed. Her resume had been short on
majors, but that gap is rapidly being filled. Now she has one
LPGA Championship, two U.S. Opens and two Dinahs (Kraft Nabisco
Championships, if you must). The U.S. Open is next month at
Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland. Then in August, at Royal Lytham,
she'll try to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the
British Open. If Riegger is smart, he'll put down a few quid on
Sorenstam played the 399-yard 18th hole three times on Sunday,
once at lunchtime, twice in the gloaming. The second time, in the
minutes leading up to the six o'clock news, Sorenstam hit
four-wood off the tee, followed by a smashed seven-wood for her
second. "Did you see it?" she asked her caddie, Terry McNamara.
In her eagerness and through the gray mist, she couldn't tell
where the ball had gone. It landed 20 feet from the hole. Two
putts later she was in a playoff, and though 6 p.m. came and
went, CBS actually stayed on the air. Post-Colonial, Annika is
considered good TV.
The sudden death, which began on the 18th, was wham-bam. Park, 24
and a rising talent, hit her approach shot into the sopping wet
greenside rough and made bogey. Sorenstam, 32, played out of her
own textbook: tee shot in the fairway, six-iron to 18 feet, two
putts, little victory dance. Playing Colonial had served her
well. No shot she played on Sunday made her more nervous than her
opening tee shot in Fort Worth, Texas, against the men.
"I am, to be honest, quite jealous," Park said in defeat. "I wish
I were Number 1."
Sorenstam doesn't have time for jealousy or frivolity (she
rejected the Riegger challenge) or wishfulness. Not when the
practice tee, gym and golf course beckon. "I had the chance, and
I didn't want to let it go," Sorenstam said of her quest to win
her first LPGA Championship and her 45th LPGA title. Her playoff
record is 12-4. "Nothing was going to stop me."
As her caddie, McNamara has the best view of Sorenstam's golf and
the best take on Sorenstam the golfer. "She doesn't compare
herself to others," he said. "She compares herself to herself."
She's better now than she has ever been. It's not the shots that
are improving. It's her head.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BERGMAN [INSIDE COVER] Who Else? Add a Major to Annika Sorenstam's Special Season G4 HIGH FIVE The LPGA Championship is Annika's fifth major title.
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN LEAP OF FAITH When her two-outfit, 34-hole marathon finally ended with a par in the playoff, Sorenstam jumped for joy.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN SO CLOSE With a final-round 67, Park made up five shots on Sorenstam and forced the playoff.
"I am, to be honest, quite jealous," said Park after losing on
the first hole of sudden death. "I wish I were Number 1."