CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Her dream of a Grand Slam having dissipated in the mile-high air, Annika Sorenstam stuck around Cherry Hills long enough to watch the final act of a U.S. Womens Open that kept everyone in suspense to the very end.
Ultimately, the biggest surprise was Sorenstam being reduced to the role of spectator.
So dominant in winning the first two majors by a combined 11 shots, Sorenstam was under par for only two of the 72 holes she played at the U.S. Womens Open. No one worried about her over the weekend because Sorenstam never got any closer than five shots from the lead.
Sorenstam wound up in a tie for 23rd, nine shots behind Birdie Kim. It was her lowest finish in 52 tournaments, dating to a missed cut in the 2002 Womens British Open.
It was a tough week, a tough championship, Sorenstam said. But you always learn something. Im sure I will look back at this week and bring something good out of it.
What she likely will find is an opportunity that might not get any easier.
She is still miles ahead of everyone else on the LPGA Tour, but competition that has been lacking the last two years might be coming sooner than anyone realizes.
Teenagers were all the rage at Cherry Hills, and four of them'Morgan Pressel (17), Brittany Lang (19), Michelle Wie (15) and Paula Creamer (18) -- had a share of the lead at some point during the Womens Open.
Sorenstam gave Pressel a hearty hug after the feisty Floridian had the Open snatched away by Kims spectacular bunker shot that dropped for birdie on the 72nd hole. She told Pressel she played great and to keep her spirits up because there would be many more chances.
If we can keep playing well ... its just going to be tougher to win, Pressel said. I dont know if you will see anybody dominate like Annika. Theres going to be so many players that are really, really good at a young age.
The Grand Slam is tough enough as it is, proven by the fact Sorenstam was only the sixth player to get halfway home since Arnold Palmer reinvented golfs Holy Grail in 1960.
Of those six players, Sorenstam and Tiger Woods are the only players who failed to finish in the top 10 while going for the third leg of the slam. Woods tied for 28th in the 2002 British Open.
To win the slam, you have to be able to control yourself, Palmer said last week. Then are outside factors you have no control over, that people dont think about. Youve just got to hope they work out for you.
They didnt for Woods. He was two shots out of the lead going into the third round at Muirfield when nasty weather rolled in and sent him to an 81, his worst score as a professional.
The biggest competition Sorenstam faced at Cherry Hills was herself.
For someone who has won 62 times and nine majors, and faced the enormous pressure of being the first woman to compete on the PGA Tour in 58 years at the 2003 Colonial, she felt jangled nerves before hitting her first shot.
And while Sorenstam wont second-guess herself, her strategy raises some questions.
She looked like she was trying to steer her way around this U.S. Open, drawing up a game plan and sticking to it no matter the circumstances.
I didnt feel like she played aggressive enough those first two rounds and today she was really having to chop out of the rough a lot, said Rosie Jones, paired with Sorenstam the first two rounds and the last one. I dont know if this course is really set up for her. She didnt seem comfortable on it.
Laura Davies thought it was right up Sorenstams alley because of her length and accuracy. She chose iron off the tee on the 539-yard fifth hole, fearing it was too tight in the landing area.
Some of these fairways are like hitting into a thimble, said her caddie, Terry McNamara.
Stranger still, Sorenstam figured 4-over-par would be enough to win'she was off by one incredible shot'but shifted gears from conservative to go-for-broke in the final round.
It started with a driver on the opening hole, just like Palmer when he charged from behind to win the 1960 U.S. Open. But she had no chance to reach the green, and instead went into a hazard and made bogey.
Its tough to speculate, Sorenstam said when asked if she was too aggressive on Sunday. I had a game plan. I am not going to second-guess myself. Normally, when I come up with a plan, it works. Im going to leave it at that.
It was the third time Sorenstam stumbled while trying to make history.
She was trying to become the first woman to win three straight U.S. Womens Open titles in 1997 at Pumpkin Ridge and missed the cut. Last month, she had a chance to win a record six straight LPGA Tour events in Kingsmill, was never a factor and finished out of the top 10.
The Grand Slam was her chief goal this year, but one bad week doesnt mean there is nothing left.
Sorenstam has always wanted to win 10 majors, and her next chance is in five weeks at Royal Birkdale. She can still go after Mickey Wrights record of 13 victories in a year.
But the Grand Slam will have to wait nine more months, when she steps to the plate at the Kraft Nabisco Championship next March. It probably wont be any easier the next time around.
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Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss
The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:
Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)
What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.
Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.
Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.
Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.
Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.
Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win
Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.
He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.
Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:
Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'
Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.
Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.
Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.
"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.
The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.
Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.
"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."
McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open
When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.
Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.
Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.
While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.
Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.