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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Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."