The Annika Circus Arrives

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Annika Sorenstam walked off the practice range, got into a cart and was surrounded immediately by two dozen media, who formed a wall so thick that the cart couldn't move in any direction.
 
Cameras flashed.
 
Microphones were thrust toward her face.
 
Questions were shouted to her in presidential fashion, the last of which summed up the circus-like moment Monday afternoon at Colonial.
 
How do you think you'll handle the media attention?
 
The answer could have applied to just about any question she faces this week -- at least until she tees it up Thursday and becomes the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
 
'I don't know,' Sorenstam said with a sweet smile and a shrug of the shoulders.
 
No one knows how she will handle the spotlight, as severe as anything Tiger Woods ever faced when he turned pro and started winning majors.
 
No one knows what she will shoot.
 
No one knows whether she will finish high enough to play on the weekend.
 
'We're about to find out,' two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen said.
 
Sorenstam at least handled the first test with ease. Instead of weaving her way through nearly 80 media who stood guard outside the Colonial clubhouse under a blistering sun, she sneaked in the back gate and went straight to the range shortly before 6 p.m.
 
No matter. It wasn't long before everyone found her. Media scampered across fairways, at times cutting in front of players in a Monday pro-am, like ants heading for a bread crumb at a picnic.
 
Clearly, the Colonial won't be any picnic.
 
Sorenstam says she was surprised by the attention from her decision to accept a sponsor's exemption to the Colonial, making her the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play against the men.
 
The tournament has issued 583 media credentials. Not only is that up -- way up -- from 178 last year, it computes to nearly five media for every player in the field.
 
Even the players are curious.
 
'I was expecting all this wildness,' Kenny Perry said after spending close to two hours in solitude on the practice green and chipping area. 'I came to see what it was all about. I think everyone is fired up about it.'
 
For most of the afternoon, the only LPGA Tour player at Colonial was Michelle McGann, who was watching Alex Cejka play in a pro-am.
 
'I hope she does all right,' said McGann, a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour who was leaving Monday night for the LPGA Corning Classic. 'I can't imagine the amount of pressure. The whole world basically knows about this.'
 
McGann has a rooting interest.
 
Sorenstam is the best female golfer in the world, a winner of 43 tournaments, including 19 in the last two seasons. She has breezed through her competition on the LPGA Tour, winning every other tournament she played last year.
 
Asked if Sorenstam represents every LPGA Tour player this week, McGann replied, 'In a certain way, I think so.'
 
'She's got a lot of hats she's wearing,' McGann said. 'Obviously, she thinks of Annika first, and she should. But she's part of our tour, part of us.'
 
Some players didn't want to talk about Sorenstam. That's all they have done for the last several weeks, and truth is, they have no idea what will happen.
 
'I'm very curious,' Jeff Sluman said. 'Vegas has got odds. Players are saying this and that. We don't know because we haven't seen her play. I have no clue. I am genuinely interested in how she does.'
 
A lot of that will be dictated by the course.
 
It already was crusty and dry, and a hot sun continued to bake the course and produce a yellow sheen on the greens. A day earlier, workers sprayed some iron chemicals into the green to give them a lush look.
 
Sorenstam will be tested by the 7,080 yards of Colonial, a par-70. The rough is not as dense because of the dry conditions, but keeping the ball from running through the fairways could be a difficult chore for Sorenstam.
 
She has played practice rounds at Colonial when nobody was watching, and planned two full rounds before her historic tee time Thursday.
 
Sorenstam will have a female security guard assigned to her at all times, the ladies' locker room all to herself, and thousands of people watching her every move.
 
'She's going to have Tiger Woods' media,' Perry said. 'I'm anxious to see how she handles all that. I don't think she really knows what she's getting into. If she could play with no media, just a regular tournament, I think she could do well. But when she sees all the attention, she's going to realize this is a special moment.'
 
Sorenstam no doubt left Colonial on Monday realizing it will be an extraordinary week.
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     

     
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