Sorenstams play has been a formidable barrier for the players of the LPGA to surmount, the Swede ringing up 67 victories. This year, though, Sorenstam has not been quite as sharp as in previous years. She recently missed her first cut in a non-major since her rookie year in 1994. And, after winning her first outing of the 2006 season, she has gone seven tournaments without a victory ' a most unlikely occurrence for a person with her legendary capabilities.
Recently a group of former tour pros who are now Golf Channel analysts gathered to discuss Sorenstams chances, as well as several of other topics concerning McDonalds.
Annika just is not as sharp as she has been over the last four years, said Dottie Pepper. She is driving the ball significantly more crooked this year, and the ball is farther from the hole as a result. She has also been missing more five and six-footers than over the recent past.
In other words, shes more like everyone else, but she still has the there she is again factor when her name goes on the leader board. She compartmentalizes and manages her time better than anyone on Tour.
And Kay Cockerill says Sorenstam is still a dangerous competitor.
Annika, who has defied all the odds against suffering the bad bounces, balls avoiding the hole and general frustrations of competitive golf, is experiencing these things right now, she said. Annika is the only player to have won the LPGA Championship three straight times and she, unbelievably, is trying to win it four times straight. It doesnt seem that her game is in the type of top form necessary to do that, but again, she has pulled off so many amazing feats that you can never count her out.
Peter Oosterhuis feels the same.
Im sure everyone is surprised by Annikas play this year, he said. She has set such high standards that anything less than domination is a shock. Being a multiple-win defending champion should only remind Annika of her greatness and help her find her best form.
The favorites, if not Sorenstam? Cockerill says that Lorena Ochoa impresses her.
Lorena Ochoa is one of the hottest golfers right now, man or woman, she says. The fact that she is in serious contention almost every week tells me that she is more and more comfortable with that position. A major championship would be the next logical step in her career, and she certainly has the heart and the game to do it.
And one name is not being mentioned among the list of favorites. Laura Davies is nowhere on the radar, Cockerill says. Laura is sorely missed as a regular contender in the majors.
One word of note, however, is that Laura finished T-3 at last years LPGA Championship. So maybe theres something about Bulle Rock (in Maryland, the site of McDonalds) that will get her game turned around.
Pepper looks at two of the bright young stars of the tour, young women who impressed with their over-all play last year.
Paula Creamer would do well to get back to what she did last yearplay golf and put the marketing stuff on hold. Her focus on the course seems to be suffering a bit because of a lot of outside influences that were not so prevalent last year.
Morgan Pressel now is not saddled with high school studies and graduationtime to really kick things into high gear.
Sixteen-year-old Michelle Wie is a definite threat. And Pepper believes Wie has an advantage in that she entered the mens U.S. Open qualifying the week of McDonalds.
Because of her status as a non-LPGA member, Michelle has the advantage of being able to play and practice the week prior to the event without penalty, Pepper says. Mental fatigue could be something to watch for as the week goes by. She will be under the microscope for a bunch of days in a row.
Of course, said Cockerill, Michelle is and seemingly will consistently be a factor each time she tees it up in an LPGA tournament. It will be fun and interesting to see if Michelle will win this year on the LPGA Tour and if her first win comes at a major.
I think that experience (of playing in the mens Open qualifier) will help Michelle much more than hurt her. Open qualifying with the men will be a very challenging endeavor and whether or not she makes it, it will help make the pressure of the LPGA Championship easier to handle.
Bulle Rock certainly may play a role in the eventual winner. The course favors players that have great course management and distance control with their irons, believes Pepper. Youre got have enough power to hit a reasonable iron into some tough par-4 hole locations: Sorenstam, (Karrie) Webb and Ochoa.