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Slam Dunk

As first steps go, the start of Sorenstam's run at history was something else

Alice Miller could barely sit still. She was spending Easter Sunday with family and friends in Lititz, Pa., but even with a holiday celebration in full swing, Miller, the executive director of the June 9--12 McDonald's LPGA Championship, the next major on the women's schedule, was glued to the TV in the living room watching Annika Sorenstam's crushing eight-stroke win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"We were already very excited to have Annika, our two-time defending champ, back," said Miller, "and with our move to a new venue [Bulle Rock Golf Course, in Havre de Grace, Md.], the rest of the field might've felt they had a chance. Now with all the talk, it's hard to describe how excited I am."

The "talk" Miller was referring to in the wake of Sorenstam's staggering victory at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., was of the possibility of a Grand Slam, golf's ultimate prize, and how Sorenstam, who has made the Slam her goal for the past two seasons, took the first step with her 15-under 273. The win was the 59th of Sorenstam's 13-year pro career and her eighth major. The Nabisco was also her fifth consecutive victory, which tied a record set by Nancy Lopez in 1978, and the seventh W in her last nine starts.

Asked if Sunday's victory was a one-down-three-to-go scenario, Sorenstam, 34, played coy. "I told everyone what my goals were [last year], and then I didn't get to come in here and hold the trophy or be soaking wet, so my goal went down the tubes. But now I am here and I'm soaking wet, and looking forward to the rest of the year."

The other players, though, were more effusive. Many feel that this run by the Hall of Famer is probably the best in the career of one of the greatest female golfers of all time. "What Tiger did for the men, Annika will now do for the women," said third-year player Christina Kim. "I remember the first time I played with Annika. I wasn't overly intimidated because no one part of her game stands out. Then I looked up, and I was down 10 strokes. Now, she's even better. She can't be stopped." Said 18-year veteran Liselotte Neumann, like Sorenstam a Swede, "It's hard to believe that she could get any better, but it's even harder to believe that she won't."

Last week Sorenstam was long (only one player bettered her 274.3-yard average off the tee), straight (she hit 66% of the fairways) and the most accurate player in the tournament (she led the field with 55 greens hit in regulation). Disgusted after a two-under-par 70 on Thursday, yet satisfied with a second-round 69 that put her in a first-place tie with crowd favorite Rosie Jones (page 12), Sorenstam shifted into another gear on the weekend, shooting bogey-free rounds of 66 and 68 to obliterate the field.

In an informal poll more than a dozen players were asked which would be more impressive: a Grand Slam or breaking Kathy Whitworth's record of 88 tour victories. The Slam won easily. And, to a woman, those polled believed that Sorenstam can do it. Said Lopez, "I think Annika wants the toughest record--the Slam--and I think she'll succeed."




Sorenstam's fifth consecutive victory, this one by eight strokes, tied the LPGA record set by Lopez in 1978.




Having a Blast

Golf is sweet--even if you have to hit the occasional bunker shot--when you're on your way to an eight-stroke victory, as Annika Sorenstam was at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Sorenstam would play the final 39 holes without a bogey to claim the first leg of her goal: winning a Grand Slam.