Annika Needs a Rally

By Brian HewittNovember 20, 2008, 5:00 pm
2006 ADT ChampionshipWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. ' After 72 LPGA victories, 17 international wins, and a Hall of Fame career that included a stunning 59, Annika Sorenstams swan song in America has been reduced to 18 holes that more closely resemble the final round of Q-School.
 
And isnt that more than just a little incongruous?
 
Yes, folks, Annika Sorenstam, arguably the best female ever to swing a golf club, has to climb into the top 16 by end of business Friday at the ADT Championship or her competitive career, at least for now, is finished.
 
You cant really practice this format, Sorenstam said Thursday after carding a disappointing 2-over 74 that would have been even worse if she hadnt birdied two of her last five holes. I didnt perform today.
 
Which means she must perform much better Friday if she wants to advance in this unique format that pares the 32-player field to 16 after 36 holes. Sorenstam is currently tied for 23rd with two other players, six shots behind leader Katherine Hull.
 
Sorenstam is a four-time winner of this event, but not since the format changed drastically in 2006. The smart money at tricky Trump International late Thursday was guessing that a Friday 69 would get Sorenstam to the weekend.
 
But she will have to start putting better on The Donalds fast and tricky greens. Its been like this for the last six months, Annika said. But Im making zero putts. Neither of her two birdie efforts was longer than 10 feet. Suffering with Annika was a decidedly pro-Sorenstam gallery that included her father, Tom Sorenstam; her agent, Mark Steinberg; and her fianc, Mike McGee.
 
All 16 players who survive Friday will begin at level par Saturday. The ADT format then calls for a cut from 16 players to eight before Sundays virtual winner-take-all final round. And again, all eight players Sunday will start out even.
 
Very funny, yeah, really funny, said South Koreas Ji-Yai Shin when asked about the format. Shin is tied with In-Kyung Kim, one back of Hull.
 
The good news for Sorenstam, who has two more events outside the U.S. in 2008 before getting married Jan. 11, is that the winner will walk away with a cool million. Second place money drops all the way down to $100,000. Third place pays a measly $20,500.
 
Sorenstam did not look at a leaderboard all day and wouldnt learn until later that world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, at 3 over, was in an even more precarious position than she was. Im going to need to work harder, Ochoa said.
 
Hull is an Australian who admits that length off the tee isnt her strength. But she strung together a pair of nine-hole 34s that added up to 68 and sole possession of the lead.
 
Like just about everybody else here who believes Sorenstam wont play in 2009 but will return to the LPGA, perhaps after starting a family, Hull had an opinion. I dont think shes retiring actually, Hull said. I think shes too much of a competitor to really walk away from the game.
 
Which is precisely why Thursdays 74, despite a ball-striking effort that produced 14 greens in regulation, was so frustrating for Sorenstam. I was trying to enjoy this, she said. But I have too much competitiveness in my blood.
 
Friday she needs a competitive score on her card. She will have to improve on the 33 putts she needed Thursday. If not, she will have missed the first of two cuts on her last event in this country for a long time.
 
And it will be like Q-School in that there will be a number she will need to get her into the final 16 ' or at least into a playoff that will get her into the final 16. If she doesnt equal or better that number, her year in this country will be over.
 
And wont that be more than just a little incongruous?
 
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