Annika Bounces Back in Quest for Record

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The only thing Annika Sorenstam has to apologize for is her timing.
 
Thanks to a nifty 31 on the back nine Saturday, Sorenstam still has a chance to put her name in the LPGA record books once again by winning her sixth tournament in a row. For a while, it didn't even look like she would make the cut.
 
Winning six in a row, though, doesn't seem to mean all that much to Sorenstam. If it had, she wouldn't have taken five weeks off at a time she was blowing away the competition to go home to Florida and relax.
 
You could hardly blame Sorenstam, because there is little left that she has to prove.
 
She's shot a 59, won 59 times, wasn't afraid to mix it up with the men, and is a quarter of the way to her audacious goal of winning all four majors in one year.
 
One day, perhaps not too long from now, Sorenstam will become the winningest golfer ever, surpassing Kathy Whitworth's 88 wins. She's only 34 and, frighteningly enough for her competition, her best golf may not be behind her.
 
It's not like Sorenstam needs much else to add to her Hall of Fame plaque. But women's golf sure could have used her at the last three tournaments she decided to skip while taking a vacation from the tour.
 
While Sorenstam practiced with Tiger Woods and was seen watching a tennis tournament with his wife, Elin, tournament directors must have been kicking the furniture and swearing under their breath at her absence.
 
The LPGA tour struggles for recognition almost every week. But when its superstar decides to take such a long break, it diminishes the stature of her record-breaking attempt.
 
Only a handful of national media bothered to show up for this week's tournament, an indication that a streak that began last November wasn't nearly as interesting as the original five-win streak that Nancy Lopez electrified the golf world with as a 21-year-old rookie in 1978.
 
Lopez did hers in six weeks; Sorenstam has taken nearly six months.
 
If Sorenstam thought so little of the record that she skipped three tournaments since her win in March at the Nabisco Championship, it's hard to make a case for anyone else to get too excited about the streak.
 
Sorenstam had her reasons for taking a break after playing three tournaments to begin the year. She's going through a painful divorce, likes to do things other than play golf and wants to make sure she peaks for the majors.
 
Her real goal is winning the Grand Slam, something no woman has ever done and something far more improbable than winning six tournaments in a row.
 
But Sorenstam is the face of women's golf, propping up an LPGA tour filled with insular players who either have no clue on how to relate to fans or no idea that part of their job is to give people outside their immediate families a reason to care whether they make birdies or bogeys.
 
That showed Saturday when about 1,000 fans gathered around the first tee to cheer for Sorenstam. Those who followed her around the course pretty much ignored playing partners Carin Koch and Wendy Ward, but every time Sorenstam hit a nice shot there were big cheers and occasional shouts of 'Go Annika!'
 
Sorenstam has warmed in recent years to fans, partly shedding her natural Swedish reserve to try and relate to them more. She smiles when she hits a good shot, shows emotion when she doesn't and generally seems to make her best effort to be accessible.
 
During the third round of her win at the Nabisco, Sorenstam was on the back nine and making a runaway of the season's first major when she was forced to back off a shot when a marshal issued a loud - and late - command for the crowd to quiet
 
Sorenstam's caddie admonished the marshal, but Sorenstam wasn't bothered.
 
'That's OK,' she told the marshal. 'I'm happy.'
 
On the golf course, she has plenty to be happy about. Before her opening 76 this week, she had played 43 straight rounds of competitive golf at par or better. And she is arguably more intimidating to the women of the LPGA tour than Woods is these days on the men's tour.
 
There was ample proof of that Saturday when Sorenstam began making birdies on the back nine to leapfrog three quarters of the field and move within shouting distance of Cristie Kerr.
 
'I think they know I'm here,' Sorenstam said. 'I just don't know how badly they know I'm here.'
 
They'll find that out Sunday, now that Sorenstam's competitive juices are flowing again. There's nothing she likes better than winning, and you've got to like her chances to at least make a run at it on a 36-hole day when her fitness could make a difference.
 
Still, this record would be only a footnote in Sorenstam's magical career, something she probably already recognizes.
 
Like Woods, she wants to win majors, and win them in bunches. That means a busy summer ahead as she chases a goal no woman has ever accomplished.
 
To Sorenstam, that's more important than just another entry in the LPGA record book.
 
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