She started the season with a win in her first tournament, the Safeway International, slipped to a tie for 13th at the Nabisco, then came right back to win again at the Office Depot. From there until the end of the 2004 season, she never went more than four tournaments without a victory ' and during that four-event drought she finished second twice. And she finished the year strong, winning three of the final four events, four of the last six.
Yet, it was a season that has become status quo for Annika Sorenstam. Her win total was six on the LPGA alone. While that would be eye-popping stuff for anyone else, for her its just Annika.
Just Annika? Well, in 2002, she won 13 times around the globe, 11 on the LPGA Tour. She has won eight on the LPGA in both 2001 and 2003 ' in addition to this year. Ho-hum ' just another spectacular year for Annika. But she wouldnt say that it was her greatest.
Well, it's going to rank up there, Sorenstam conceded. Maybe not the best year.
Last year was the Colonial, I thought that was an incredible year. And the year before when I won 11 times (on the LPGA), obviously. It seems every year has a little different feel to it. This year is great because I didn't play as much, but I was still able to be up there.
So goes it with Annika. Maybe it wasnt the best for her, but it would have been by far the best for anyone else. Its just that this year, there wasnt a special event to grab Sorenstams attention.
Two years ago, I played like crazy in the end and tried to catch Mickey Wright's record (of 13 LPGA wins), and last year at the Colonial it was something special, she said. I'm happy about them all. They're wonderful years, and I don't want to trade one for the other.
But there is something that stands out in her mind about this season. Eighteen appearances continued her downward trend of playing less, a mark broken only by playing just 17 times in 03. Its a highwater mark in a low-playing year. Sorenstam has found that to be very gratifying.
I've played less and still played at the same level, she said.
You know, I have not practiced as much. I stepped away from the game a lot more this year, and I'm still able to be up there. People from the outside might not see that, but me personally - I've noticed that. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. But at least now I notice I can do things on the side and still be able to compete out here - which is a great combination for me, because that's really what I want to do down the road.
One sore point sticks in her craw, though. She won her major, the LPGA McDonald's Championship. One major a year would be great for most players. But not for Annika.
I've said that for a while now - it's getting to the point where I really want to win some majors.
I've said (I want to win) 10. I still think it's very possible to do it. I feel very good about playing in the majors. This year I had a chance to win at least one more and really couldn't do it. So definitely for next year, I'm going to try and do it again.
The LPGA McDonald's gives Sorenstam seven. That certainly isnt bad, but Annika won the U.S. Open as her first win ever, then followed the next year with another Open. She then went four consecutive years without winning a major, until 2001, when she won the Nabisco for the first of two straight years. Since 01, Sorenstam has won five majors in four years.
Annika had set her sights on winning all four majors ' a grand slam, if you will. But the tie for 13th to start off at the Nabisco ruined that hope. The rest of the year could have been a struggle. But its a credit to her perseverance that she bowed her neck and continued to win tournaments.
I'm always motivated to play well when I do play, said Sorenstam. But, like, my main goal was kind of gone.
But, you know, there's still tournaments out there that I'd like to win. You know, I still have been practicing enough to win tournaments. So even though I didn't win the ones I wanted, I can still win out here.
Overall, when you look at the season, if you look at the money list and the Player of the Year, it's all about winning tournaments. So I wasn't just going to give up and forget about the rest of the year.
With everything she has accomplished, with all her 56 LPGA wins, Sorenstam still finds challenges. Since the day she bolted past Karrie Webb to the top in 2001, she is no longer an underdog. And she feels just a little uncomfortable not being in the role of underdog.
It's tough to be on top, she said. It's tough, you know, to try and take the next step. I've always found it easier to chase something or somebody.
You can just look at a tournament. I'd rather really come from behind, then I know what Ive got to do, than maybe have a five shot lead. I find it a lot tougher that way.
Cristie Kerr is impressed, like all her LPGA sisters are impressed. She doesnt know if we will ever again see a player like Annika Sorenstam.
The one thing about Annika, she's really, really patient, Kerr said. She's not really in a rush to set a house on fire. She's the best player in the world. I aspire to be that.
Sometimes she gets out of the gate strong, but most the time she's really, really patient, and she knows she has so many wins under her belt, she knows she can do it. She's just so patient out there. She doesn't force the issue so things happen for her.
And Tiger Woods, who has been her practice companion at times at their home in Orlando, marvels when he considers what Annika has done.
Shes a heck of a player, said Woods. Just look at her record. Shes just so solid, so consistent each and every day. Every shot is just dead straight. You have to look at it and lean one way or the other to see if its actually going to miss the target or not because its just so straight.
And yet, if Annika won eight times this year, she wants to win nine next year. Shes 34 now, and her career is slowly coming to an end. But she wants to approach next year as though she were a rookie.
I try to look forward and not backwards, she says. What really motivates you is the goals of winning certain tournaments. It motivates me to get better. And I think the last two years, you know, a lot of people say, Well, what's going to happen?. I'm still looking to get better.
There are still parts of my game that can improve. If I can still work and get better, I don't see a reason why it should end.