The Best Even Without Her Best

By Jay CoffinNovember 17, 2008, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. ' Annika Sorenstam was so dominant during her heyday that she could win without her best game. Of course, you wont get the humble Swede to admit it outright ' and fellow competitors dont want to hear of such nonsense ' but it happened. She often won with her C-game.
 
When Sorenstams final putt drops this week at the ADT Championship at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., she will have put the finishing touches on a 15-year LPGA career that produced 72 victories, 10 major championships and a mind-boggling 209 top-10 finishes. If shes able to capture ADTs $1 million first-place prize, add one more to the victory and top-10 categories.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam goes for her 73rd, and perhaps final, LPGA title this week. (Getty Images)
In an exclusive sit-down interview with GolfChannel.com, Sorenstam openly discussed her career from beginning to end. The most havoc she wreaked on the LPGA came in the middle portion of her career, saying that 2001-04 was the best stretch of golf shed ever played. Thing is, she won 10 events and two majors in 2005, a year she failed to mention, probably because she didnt want to acknowledge it as successful since it was the year her first marriage ended.
 
I dont divide them up into years, it was just one stretch. Sorenstam said. It didnt really matter where I went, if I didnt win or finish in the top-3 it was a disaster.
 
At any rate, that five-year stretch from 2001-05 was when Sorenstam picked up more hardware than Lowes and Home Depot combined. This golf writer was lucky enough to be on hand for a bulk of Sorenstams glory years and saw her, in person, win seven of her 10 majors.
 
Sure, the legend all began with the U.S. Womens Open victory in 1995 when the shy, petite, little-known Sorenstam delivered her Hello, world moment, but Annika became 'Annika' in 2001 when she produced the goods by shooting 59 early in the season at the Standard Register Ping. No other woman has posted golfs magic number and only three others have shot 60.
 
Over the next five years she did things that were unfathomable.
 
Sorenstam, now 38, won 43 events and seven majors from 2001-05. She won consecutive Kraft Nabisco Championships in 2001-02, then captured the major again in 2005. From 2003-05, Sorenstam won three consecutive McDonalds LPGA Championships. Her five consecutive tournament victories at the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 matched a record set by Nancy Lopez, and she claimed the Mizuno Classic five consecutive years from 2001-05. In each of those five years, Sorenstam topped $2 million in earnings, something that has only been done three other times. She collected LPGA money title and Player of the Year honors all five years and captured the Vare trophy for lowest stroke average in 2001, 2002 and 2005. None of this even includes that little deal in 2003 where she dared to play against the men at the PGA Tours Colonial.
 
I was obviously on a roll, things were going my way, said Sorenstam, who is quick to add that at one time several years ago she owned at least a third of all LPGA records. I had been on the tour for probably five or six years so I was a veteran player. I knew the courses; I knew what worked for me. I was very dedicated to the fitness. All of those pieces together made me perform, gave me the results.
 
I was very, very prepared for every tournament. I was so focused on what I had to do. I was just living in the moment of each tournament. It was all I did. And the results came. The more motivated I got, the more I practiced.
 
Everyone Sorenstam faced over the past eight years knew that she was looking to beat their respective brains out. The intimidation reached such levels at times that it was almost as if Sorenstam already had a two-stroke advantage standing on the first tee. Recognized as just an average putter, if Sorenstam had been as good with the short stick as, say, Rosie Jones, the LPGA would have had to shut down its doors because she never would have lost.
 
What will always be most impressive to me is how she prepared to dominate, said Dottie Pepper, who still ranks Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright above Sorenstam on her all-time best list.
 
Battles with Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak made Sorenstam even better and their performances elevated the LPGA to new heights. If one wasnt winning, the other two were in the hunt. When one wasnt winning she wasnt exactly pleased and it made her work that much harder to close the gap. It was healthy, fun and entertaining but Sorenstam always wanted it more.
 
When I was as focused as I could be is when Karrie and Se Ri had our duels, Sorenstam said, saying she left Lorena Ochoa off her list of biggest rivals because it never had time to develop like the ones with Webb and Pak. Were all so competitive ' and so very different from one another. We dont hang out, we dont go to dinner, but there is a mutual respect. It wasnt about the money, it was about prestige.
 
Also, not to be forgotten is Sorenstams epic performance at the 2003 Solheim Cup in Sweden. The whole world knew that the only reason why the Cup was at Barseback was because of Sorenstams mighty stature within the game. Then, sadly, the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Anna Lindh early in the week cast a pall over the country. But Sorenstam responded with a personal 4-1 record that willed Europe to a huge 17 -10 victory that gave Swedes reason the smile again.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam reacts to her birdie putt on 17 at the 2003 Solheim Cup. (Getty Images)
The final match of Day 2 still ranks as one of the best Ive seen in person. With the momentum of the matches in question, Laura Diaz and Kelly Robbins had a tap-in birdie on the 17th hole that would have given them a 1-up lead heading into the home hole. But Sorenstam drained a 20-footer from the fringe to assure that she and teammate Suzann Pettersen walk to 18 all square. Pettersen then split the fairway and Sorenstam responded with an approach to 10 feet. Diaz missed her birdie attempt and Pettersen made hers to win the match, send the gallery into a frenzy, and give Europe a three-point lead going into Sunday singles.
 
But it wasnt always pretty, there were hiccups along the way and three of her biggest came on the biggest stage of the U.S. Womens Open. Sorenstam held a two-shot advantage in the final round of the 2002 Open at Prairie Dunes but fell victim to a final-round 66 by Juli Inkster. A year later at Pumpkin Ridge, Sorenstam was in the middle of the fairway, 236-yards from the green on the par-5 18th and needed birdie to win. But she sailed her 4-wood into the right trees and her ball landed next to a fence surrounding portable toilets behind a large scoreboard. She made bogey and was a shot out of the Monday 18-hole playoff with Robbins, Angela Stanford and eventual winner Hilary Lunke. In 2004 at the Orchards, Sorenstam shot a final-round 67 and looked in prime position to win until Meg Mallon shot a back-nine 32 to close with 65 and capture the championship.
 
Vindication came at the 2006 Open when, along with the fog that marred play all week, talk swirled that Sorenstam was in a slump, that perhaps her best golf was behind her. She hadnt been as dominant as she once was, and some of the focus of the LPGA was beginning to turn to younger stars like Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie. But Sorenstam proved that, no matter the circumstance, if shes in the field, if she wants something badly enough, shell find a way to make it happen. When she beat Pat Hurst in an 18-hole Monday playoff it left all her detractors with egg on their faces.
 
All the stars were aligned, she says now about that peculiar week in Rhode Island. It took 10 years for me to win it again, a tournament I thought I owned. That was very special, the way it happened, in a playoff.
 
Said Sorenstams longtime caddie Terry McNamara, after that feat: There is nothing she cant do when she puts her mind to it. Nothing. There is a determination in her about everything she does that you just dont find in many other people.
 
Sorenstam is not like many other people, which is why shes accomplished so much. She doesnt have any regrets, knows she made mistakes and openly says she learned a lot along the way. Sorenstam wishes she would have gone through media training earlier to better deal with all the press and pressure that goes with being No. 1 and she believes she should have began her charity work earlier.
 
But thats all just a perfectionist who is nitpicking. Its difficult for anyone to argue with Sorenstams end result.
 
The domination was the end result of extreme preparation ' from her on-course statistics, off-course preparation and single-mindedness to achieve her goals,' Pepper said. 'Preparation, I believe, is her hallmark above all.
 
And many times when Sorenstam wasnt completely prepared, she was so good that shed win anyway.
 
Related Links:
  • Annika Sorenstam Trivia
  • Annika Timeline
  • Best of Annika Photo Gallery
  • Getty Images

    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1 for 6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Tiger Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than Rory McIlroy (13). 

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: Tiger no longer one with the chaos

    By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2018, 9:49 pm

    Back in the day, Tiger Woods appeared to relish riding atop the chaos, above the raucous waves of excitement that followed him wherever he went.

    Like Kelly Slater surfing epic peaks at Banzai Pipeline ...

    Like Chris Sharma dangling atop all the hazards on the cliff face of “The Impossible Climb” at Clark Mountain ...

    Hell, like Chuck Yeager ahead of the sonic boom he created breaking the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert in 1947.

    It was difficult to tell whether Woods was fueling the bedlam in his duel with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, or if it was fueling him.

    Fans scampered in a frenzy you rarely see in golf to get the best look they could at his next shot at Valhalla in that playoff.

    Same thing when Woods turned his 15-shot rout into a victory parade in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that same year.

    And when Woods improbably chipped in at the 16th at Augusta National to shake every pine tree at the Masters before going on to defeat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

    Tiger brought a boisterous, turbulent new wave of excitement to the game, unrivaled since Arnie’s Army followed the legend in his heyday.

    Woods attracted new fans who did not understand golf’s time-honored traditions. He lured them to the game’s most hallowed grounds. There were challenges with that, though they always seemed more daunting to Woods’ playing partners than to him.

    At his best, Tiger seemed to be one with the chaos, able to turn its energy into his energy.

    Every Tiger pairing in his prime turned wherever he was into a home game, turned every golf course into his stadium and transformed every opponent into the visiting team.

    We heard how hard that was for the Bob Mays, Chris DiMarcos and even the Ernie Els of the world.



    That’s what added to the intrigue of Tiger’s return to Riviera last week, and what will make this week at PGA National and the Honda Classic similarly interesting.

    Tiger’s back.

    Well, the overly exuberant frenzy only he can create is back, but his game isn’t. Not yet. And now we’re hearing how the bedlam is a challenge to more than his playing partners. It’s a challenge to his game, too.

    “It cost me a lot of shots over the years,” Woods said at the Genesis Open. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.

    “I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

    Huh? Did Tiger forget the advantage he had playing in a storm? Or are today’s storms different, more unruly, more destructive?

    Did having total control of all facets of his game when he was at his best make the bedlam work for him?

    Does the focus it requires to find his old magic today make the chaos work against him?

    Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about difficult conditions going into a major, he checked them off his list of competitive threats.

    You wonder if Tiger did the same back in the day, when players talked about the challenges that surrounded a pairing with him.

    Golf is different than other sports. That has to be acknowledged here.

    When you hear mainstream sports fans wonder what is so wrong with a fan yelling in a player’s backswing, you know they don’t understand the game. A singular comment breaking the silence over a player’s shot in golf is like a fan sneaking onto the field in football and tripping a receiver racing up the sideline. It is game-changing chaos.

    Is Tiger facing game-changing chaos now?

    Or was Riviera’s noise something he just can’t harness in his current state of repair? Is there more pressure on him trying to come back in that environment?

    If Rory McIlroy needed a “couple Advil” for the headache the mayhem at the Genesis Open caused him playing with Tiger last week, then May and DiMarco must have needed shots of Demerol.

    Then all those guys who lost majors to Tiger in final-round pairings with him must have felt like they endured four-hour migraines.

    “It got a little out of hand,” Justin Thomas said of his two days with Tiger at Riviera.

    Maybe McIlroy and Thomas were dealing with something boisterously new, more Phoenix Open in its nausea than anything Tiger created when he broke golf out of a niche.

    Whatever it is, Tiger’s challenge finding his best will be even more complicated if he’s no longer one with the chaos, if he can no longer turn its energy into his energy.

    If that’s the case, he really may be just one of the guys this time around.

    Getty Images

    What's in the bag: Genesis Open winner Watson

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 7:02 pm

    Bubba Watson won the Genesis Open for a third time in his career. Here's a look inside his bag:

    Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

    Hybrid: Ping G (19 degrees), with Matrix Altus Hybrid X shaft

    Irons: Ping iBlade (2), Ping S55 (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

    Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (52 degrees, 56 degrees, 62 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

    Putter: Ping PLD Anser

    Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

    Getty Images

    Monday Scramble: Which way did he go?

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 4:15 pm

    Bubba Watson reemerges, Tiger Woods misses the cut, the PGA Tour might have a fan problem, Billy Hurley III loses an election and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

    Bubba Golf is back, and not a moment too soon for the PGA Tour.

    Love him or loathe him – and there are plenty of folks on both side of the aisle – the game is more interesting when Watson is in the mix.

    Bubba went AWOL for two years, and entering the back half of his 30s, he thought his golf career might be finished. He got passed over for a Ryder Cup spot in 2016, despite being ranked inside the top 10 in the world. He endured a mysterious illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds on his already slight frame. He surprisingly changed his golf ball (more on that later). And he questioned his desire and motivation to play, until wife Angie gave him a swift kick in his white pants.

    Watson was at his best at Riviera, again, shaping shots around the tree-lined fairways and holing just enough putts for a two-shot win.

    Where Bubba goes from here – the Masters is less than 50 days away – is anyone’s guess, but the game just got a lot more entertaining.

    1. Watson has not disclosed what illness he suffered from last year, and in true Bubba fashion, he grew tired of being asked about it, even though he was the one who brought it up. “I’m not talking about the illness no more, it’s no big deal. I’m here. I’m healthy. There are people that are a lot sicker than me in this world, so the illness is nothing.”

    He said that he seriously wondered whether he’d ever win tournaments again. Though he has a number of small businesses to fall back on – a candy shop, a minor-league baseball team, a car dealership – it’s not as satisfying as playing good golf.  

    "I was close [to retirement]," he said. "My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She’s a lot tougher than I am."

    2. Though his game was already trending downward, Watson decided to switch his ball at the beginning of 2017. Players change equipment all the time, of course, but none rely on feel and shot shape as much as Watson.

    It was a bizarre decision that he hasn’t yet fully explained, and likely never will, but he said in October that he didn’t have a ball deal to begin this new season. He played the Titleist Pro V1x at Riviera.

    “Equipment is not the problem,” he said Sunday. “I got down to low-160s in weight. My ball speed, my swing, everything changed.”  

    3. As memorable as Bubba’s holed bunker shot on 14 was, this will be the defining moment of his week in LA:


    4. Here’s what Watson said in late 2014: “My goal is 10 wins and to make every team event. Those are the biggest goals. And until we reach those goals, I’m going to keep trying. If I get to 10, then I can switch it from there. Or retire.”

    Watson on Sunday bristled when asked whether he was possibly going to retire, like he had said – “I don’t know if I was going to retire, let’s don’t start putting words out there” – but the point remains that he now has to change his goals.

    And he doesn’t know where to start.

    “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let’s be honest,” he said. “Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt. Somehow we’re here, making fun of it. So yes, I’ve got to set a new goal.”

    After this latest win, and the two-year exemption, he said that he won’t retire for at least two more years, and that he’ll play the Masters “until they kick me out.”



    5. The Tiger Woods comeback tour hit a snag last week at Riviera.

    The driving issues that hampered Woods at Torrey Pines didn't magically disappear. He was still inconsistent with his iron play. (His 16 greens hit in two rounds were the fewest of his Tour career.) And he wasn’t as sharp around the greens. It added up to 72-76 and an early exit in his first L.A. appearance in more than a decade.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit 36 percent of the fairways and 54 percent of the greens.

    That's a problem, because PGA National might be even more difficult, with water on seemingly every hole and 15-mph winds expected. Uh-oh.

    6. Woods’ driver remains his biggest problem.

    While he’d largely eliminated the left side of the course at Torrey Pines, that wasn’t the case at Riviera.

    Putting a new, more “stout” model of shaft in his TaylorMade driver, Woods missed right almost exclusively in the opening round, then had several double crosses left with the big stick on Day 2.

    His short game and putting might be vastly improved compared to the horrors of the past few years, but it’ll be hard to compete and then contend if he’s hitting it off the planet. (And many of those off-line drives would find the water at PGA National.)

    For the week, he ranked 128th in strokes gained-off the tee, 100th approaching the green, 95th around the green and 65th putting.

    7. The news wasn’t all bad, though.

    That Woods committed to the Honda Classic, his hometown event, was an encouraging sign. That signals A) he has a desire to play tournaments, and B) he’s physically able to do it.

    For the first time in years, we’re finally able to judge Woods on the quality of his play, not his health. 



    8. The PGA Tour might be reaching a breaking point in regards to fan behavior.

    Players know what they’re signing up for at TPC Scottsdale, but even regular Tour stops are getting more raucous than players and officials would like.

    Woods created such a scene over the first two rounds at Riviera that his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, said that he had a splitting headache and that the circus probably costs Woods a half shot each round. Justin Thomas said Saturday that spectators are trying to scream and time their moronic comments perfectly. “It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

    The same thing happened at Torrey Pines, where a fan screamed during Woods’ putting stroke. It happened (a lot) at Phoenix, where a fan twice yelled in Jordan Spieth’s downswing. And it’ll absolutely happen again this week at the Honda Classic, especially at the long, par-3 17th, where tournament organizers have put their most overserved fans almost directly on top of the tee.

    It’s only a matter of time before one of these idiots costs a player the tournament.  

    9. Bill Haas was involved in a horrifying car crash last week in Los Angeles. The driver of the Ferrari he was traveling in, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was killed, while Haas and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital.

    It was a scary incident, and a sad one for the Haas family. Fortunately, Haas escaped without any major injuries, but the mental toll could be immense.

    Wish him the best.  



    10. So it looks like it’ll be another drama-filled year for Lydia Ko.

    After going winless in 2017 and changing every major aspect of her game, she returned this year with even more changes – a new swing coach, Ted Oh, and caddie, Jonny Scott. She tied for 19th in her season debut.

    It’s time to be concerned. She was on pace to be one of the all-time greats, but now – whether because of insecurity or too much parental involvement, who knows – she has changed her entire team. Again.

    Ko said she deleted Twitter from her phone not because of the deluge of criticism she has received over the past year. No, more curiously, she said it was because she didn’t use the app that much and it was “taking up [too much] storage on my phone.”

    Uhh ... Ko has more than $8.5 million in career earnings, so obviously she could splurge for the 256 GB plan, and the app takes up less storage on a phone than Uber, anyway.

    Maybe she’ll get it turned around this year, but we’re not overly optimistic. There’s too much noise upstairs. 

    11. Just in time for the run-up to the Masters, Spieth’s putter is starting to heat up.

    On tricky greens for the second consecutive week, Spieth had another week with a positive strokes gained-putting statistic – and that’s a marked improvement from the start of the year. He tied for ninth at Riviera.

    “I just made some tremendous progress,” he said. “I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    12. Amateur swing coaches popped up everywhere as Patrick Cantlay appeared painfully slow during Sunday’s final round.

    On full shots, he shuffles his feet while looking at the target and waggling the clubhead. But over putts, he remains still with his upper body while doing the same dance routine.

    While putting on the 16th and 17th holes, he took six and seven looks at the cup, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, those putts did not drop. Playing in the final group, he shot 71 and finished three back.

    Is there something going on here?

    Cantlay’s first-round scoring average (67.67, second on Tour) is almost four shots lower than in his final rounds (71.13, 100th). He has broken 70 only once on Sunday – and that was in Vegas, where he won with a closing 67.  

    Cantlay has incredible potential, but this is just one example of smart golf people believing he’d be better suited with a quicker routine:

    Billy Hurley III put together one of the most epic campaign ads of all time, but did he release it too late?!


    That’s the only reasonable explanation for why Hurley wasn’t elected as the next Player Advisory Council chairman on the PGA Tour.

    Hurley’s ad went viral, logging more than 750,000 views on Twitter, but he released it the day before the election. Maybe most Tour players already cast their votes.

    Shame.

    Maybe next time, #GoldenMan.

    This week's award winners ... 


    Peaking For Augusta?: Phil Mickelson. Well, well, well, Phil recorded a third consecutive top-6 finish, the first time he’s done that in 11 years. One massive hurdle remains – putting together four good rounds for his first win in nearly five wins – but he’s absolutely getting closer.

    Count Yo’ Money: Kevin Na. With a runner-up at Riviera, the 34-year-old has now crossed $25 million in earnings despite notching just one win in his Tour career.

    Changes Coming?: Augusta National’s fifth hole. Site plans were filed last month that show the 445-yard par 4 could be pushed back another 25 to 30 yards, the Augusta Chronicle reported. It’s a short- to mid-iron approach right now, but we’d rather see them address the severe undulations on the green.   



    Nice Goin’, Rook: Jin Young Ko. She went wire to wire to win in her first start as an LPGA member, at the Australian Open. She’s just the second to accomplish the feat, joining Beverly Hanson (1951). Of course, the 22-year-old Ko also won last fall, but at the time she wasn’t an official member. The check still cleared, though. 

    Stay Hot: Joost Luiten. He made 21 birdies in his last 54 holes to hold off Chris Wood and win the European Tour event in Oman.

    Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. Seemed an easy pick, after a playoff loss at Riviera in 2015 and after recording a tie for eighth at Pebble that was his 12th top-20 in his last 13 starts. Instead, he needed to birdie his final hole to make the cut on the number, then continued to tread water on the weekend, eventually finishing 49th. Sigh.