No More Waiting for Annika

By Golf Channel NewsroomMay 22, 2003, 4:00 pm
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour when she teed off at the Colonial this morning, hitting an opening drive 243 yards in the fairway.
 
After years of dreaming and three months of hype, the wait finally ended for Sorenstam as she parred the first hole.
 
A crowd of media and fans were stacked 10-12 deep around the No. 10 tee, and the fairway on the 404-yard hole was lined with spectators -- many of them women wearing 'Go Annika' buttons.
 
Sorenstam, the No. 1 female player in the world, started with PGA Tour rookies Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber. Hitting a 3-wood, she outdrove Wilson and Barber, though both hit their first shots with irons. Sorenstam then slumped in mock relief and laughed before walking down the fairway.
 
After hitting a 9-iron from 143 yards to just more than 15 feet, Sorenstam two-putted for a par.
 
When she started the short walk from the clubhouse to the No. 10 tee, the crowd broke into applause. After being introduced, Sorenstam acknowledged the cheering crowd with waves to both sides of the tee before hitting her drive.
 
Like everybody else, Sorenstam was ready to find out how she scores and how she copes with all the attention of being the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the tour.
 
'I can't prepare any more,' Sorenstam said Wednesday after her final practice round. 'I've been waiting for this day for a long time. I've been practicing a lot the last few months and I want the day to come. It's here. So whatever happens, happens.'
 
Las Vegas oddsmakers gave Sorenstam a 500-1 chance of winning, and they were being generous.
 
Sorenstam's final practice round on the par-70 course ended on the 11th fairway Wednesday when the pro-am was called because of steady rain. She was at least 1 over par, having picked up her ball on a couple of holes.
 
The 7,080-yard Colonial layout is a longer, tougher course than any she has played in competition. The LPGA's Corning Classic in New York this week is at 6,062-yard course being played as a par 72.
 
But rain the previous two days might have provided a break, making the normally crusty and firm Colonial greens more forgiving, allowing Sorenstam to aim at the flag with long irons and her 7-wood.
 
'The course is obviously playing much longer, so the only good news is the greens are softer so I can fire more at the flag,' she said. 'I'm going to hit a few longer clubs than I expected. But luckily, I've got them in my bag, so we'll see what happens.'
 
Sorenstam is under more scrutiny than any player since Tiger Woods made his pro debut in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open.
 
And for the first time in years, Sorenstam started a tournament she is not expecting to win. The 32-year-old Swede said she would be 'so pleased' to shoot par.
 
Sorenstam isn't trying to prove she can beat the boys. She isn't suggesting that the LPGA Tour, where she has won 43 times -- she also has won four majors -- is no longer a challenge.
 
What a sponsor's exemption in the Bank of America Colonial is allowing her to do is find out how her game stacks up against the best in the world. She said a week on the PGA Tour will satisfy her curiosity.
 
'I'm sure she's feeling a lot of pressure, but she's putting it on herself wanting to perform well,' said David Toms, who tied for second last year. 'She's won big tournaments, won a lot of tournaments, and she obviously handles the pressure very well. It will be interesting to see what happens.'
 
Jay Haas said Sorenstam's debut 'might be bigger' than Woods' first pro event.
 
'Was Tiger's debut spread across the front page of the newspaper?' Haas said. 'But it's certainly different. Everyone was talking about Tiger dominating the tour, and they don't think Annika is going to come out here and do that.'
 
While Sorenstam is making history, Nick Price will try to defend his only PGA Tour win since 1998.
 
Price, 46, knows Colonial is one of only a handful of courses where he still has a realistic chance of winning. Plus, he is coming off consecutive top-five finishes and was recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
 
Still, that's not what people have found interesting about Price, who has three majors among his 18 PGA Tour wins.
 
'I think I've answered enough questions about Annika the last three months,' Price said. 'Every one knows what my feelings are on that.'
 
Price, one of the more gracious players in the game, has said Sorenstam's appearance 'reeks of publicity.' And he said five-time Colonial champion Ben Hogan would roll in his grave if he knew what was happening.
 
This week, Price is trying to focus on playing.
 
'The last three or four months have been very uncomfortable,' he said. 'But now we are here, and I'm ready to play. I'm playing well and I'm excited about it.'
 
Price was the runner-up at last week's Byron Nelson Championship after a final-round 65. He tied for fifth in North Carolina the week before that.
 
'He comes back to hallowed ground where he's going to be celebrated and held up in high esteem for his accomplishment, and now he's kind of got to play second fiddle,' tour veteran Dan Forsman said. 'You can't help but to say he's been lost a little bit in all of this.'
 
Then again, that's true for all 113 men at Colonial.
 

Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.