Annika Needing Big Finish

By Associated PressOctober 12, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Samsung World ChampionshipPALM DESERT, Calif. -- Annika Sorenstam used to own a home at Bighorn. In some respects, she owns the course.
 
Sorenstam is the two-time defending champion at the Samsung World Championship, delivering a strong reminder who rules women's golf. With all the attention on Michelle Wie making her professional debut, Sorenstam opened with a 66 and buried the so-called competition to win by eight shots.
 
The year before, she turned a three-shot deficit into a three-shot victory over Grace Park by closing with a 67.
 
And while her debut at this desert course at the base of the Santa Rosa mountains. It wasn't her best golf, but Sorenstam delivered the clutch shot by making a 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole to force extra holes, where Sorenstam and Tiger Woods defeated Karrie Webb and David Duval in the 'Battle at Bighorn.'
 
'This is a wonderful place, as you can see,' she said Wednesday. 'Wonderful memories.'
 
Sorenstam is eager to make more when the Samsung Championship begins Thursday, not only to etch her name in the record books but to keep alive her hopes of winning the LPGA Tour player of the year.
 
'I haven't really been in that situation,' Sorenstam said. 'It's kind of been locked in by this time of the year.'
 
So much has changed this year.
 
Wie has completed her first year as a professional with mixed reviews -- a whisker away from winning three majors, a flop against the men on the PGA and European tours -- but still no trophies.
 
Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak, two of the best in LPGA history, are back in the 20-player field after winning majors.
 
Perhaps the biggest difference of all is that Sorenstam is feeling some heat.
 
She set a record last year by winning the points-based Player of the Year for the fifth straight season and eighth time in her career, and it's usually decided when the LPGA season reaches its limited-field events this time of the year.
 
By her standards, 2006 has been a struggle.
 
Sorenstam has won only three times, although one of those was the U.S. Women's Open for her 10th career major. Lorena Ochoa of Mexico has four victories, leads the money list and is closing in on the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Webb has won four times, including a major, and is second to Ochoa in the race for Player of the Year.
 
And Sorenstam?
 
'I know I have to play well,' she said.
 
Along with the Samsung, which has turned into an annuity for the 36-year-old Swede, Sorenstam is defending champion in Mizuno Classic and the season-ending ADT Championship.
 
'If I play well in these three, I think I have a very, very good chance,' she said. 'I'm motivated about that. I want to finish strong, and that's why my schedule is quite busy.'
 
Ochoa is in control. While she didn't win a major this year, it felt like one last week in Mexico where she won before her home crowd for the first time and went past $2 million in earnings this year.
 
'I can only tell you that if Annika is not going to finish in the top, it would be nice that a Mexican takes that position,' Ochoa said. 'I'm trying very hard. I'm doing my best. The tour doesn't finish until November, and then we can see what happens.'
 
The LPGA season ends this week for Wie, who celebrated her 17th birthday on Wednesday, with an anniversary on Thursday.
 
It was a year ago at the Samsung that the teenager from Hawaii made her professional debut with high expectations and scrutiny that no other newcomer in golf has faced since Tiger Woods turned pro.
 
Woods won in his fifth start as a pro on the PGA Tour.
 
This is Wie's eighth try as a pro on the LPGA Tour, and has reason to believe it's been an astounding year. While she didn't win, Wie got into contention for the first time and came close to winning the first three majors. She had at least a share of the lead at some point over the final six holes in the Kraft Nabisco, LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open until she made a mistake or someone played better.
 
Wie isn't an LPGA Tour member, so she is limited to eight starts. Otherwise, she would be 14th on the money list in only seven events, and she joins Webb and Sorenstam as the only players this year to average more than $100,000 per start.
 
'I guess I'm taking it patiently,' Wie said. 'But I feel like being in contention this year, really getting the feel for what it's like to be in contention on the Sunday in a major, I learned a lot from that. That's the way I'm learning how to win, and I feel like it's going to happen.'
 
She has mixed memories from her debut.
 
Wie was tied for the lead through two rounds, stumbled in the third round and wound up in fourth place, 10 shots behind Sorenstam. But she was disqualified for taking an improper drop in the third round, a violation that wasn't point out until the fourth round, meaning she had signed for the wrong score and was disqualified.
 
Strangely enough, the tournament with no cut was her only LPGA event that she failed to cash a check.
 
Money isn't the object for a player likely to earn close to $20 million on and off the course this year. It's the trophies. And as she starts her second year as a pro, her hopes remain high.
 
'Every week I go into, I want to win,' Wie said. 'I'm not going to force it to happen, because it will happen.'
 
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