New Venue Same Old Story

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2005 McDonaldHARVE DE GRACE, Md. -- A dozen or so fans chased after a cart that whisked Annika Sorenstam away from the 18th green at Bulle Rock on a steamy Tuesday, thrusting flags and caps for her to sign. She is the center of attention wherever she goes, even if it might take her awhile to figure out where she is.
 
Sorenstam won the LPGA Championship the last two years about 40 miles up the road at DuPont Country Club, but the environment is much different this time.
 
It starts with the golf course.
 
Gone are the tree-lined fairways of DuPont, not to mention the inflatable Ronald McDonald atop the clubhouse. Bulle Rock is a Pete Dye design that asks players to navigate from Point A to Point B, with fairways framed by rough that covers the shoes and greens that break fast and sharp around the cup.
 
``You've really got to be able to control the ball this week. That's the key,'' Sorenstam said. ``It's a true course for a major championship, I think. You have got to have all your game here.''
 
The field was increased by six players to 150, in part so that title sponsor McDonald's could get 15-year-old Michelle Wie a tee time. The criteria was changed this year to invite ``a leading amateur'' for the first time in the 51-year history of the LPGA Championship, and no one was surprised it went to Wie.
 
``All I did was receive it,'' Wie said. ``It's not like we lobbied for it. They gave it to us, and it was a great privilege to accept it.''
 
Still, the biggest change is what's at stake.
 
The McDonald's LPGA Championship, which starts Thursday, is the second stop on what Sorenstam hopes will make her the first person to win the professional Grand Slam in one calendar year.
 
That's all she has talked about for two years. And after winning the first major in March at the Kraft Nabisco Championship -- by eight shots, no less -- that's all anyone is talking about.
 
``She said she wanted to do it, and now she's the only one who has a chance,'' Meg Mallon said. ``To call your shot and then do it would be pretty amazing.''
 
Along with winning the first major, Sorenstam has won five of her first seven tournaments. The exceptions were at Kingsmill, where she was going for a record sixth consecutive victory and tied for 12th; and the Corning Classic, where she had the flu and tied for second.
 
``Obviously, if she's on the top of her game, she's going to be in contention come Sunday,'' Cristie Kerr said.
 
Despite her 61 career victories -- 38 in the last five years -- and winning the Nabisco in such overwhelming fashion, majors have not always come easily for Sorenstam. Two years ago was the first time she won two majors in a single season, the LPGA and the Women's British Open to complete the career Grand Slam.
 
Still, the 34-year-old Swede is not shy about her goals.
 
``I don't walk around every day saying, 'I want to win the Grand Slam,''' she said. ``I know it, and I'm going to try to do the best I can and prepare as much as I can. If you look at the last two weeks, I think I'm as ready as I can be. Who knows what will happen this week?''
 
The hunch is that she will be there late Sunday afternoon, as she usually is.
 
There have been sporadic challengers, from Kerr winning at Kingsmill to 18-year-old Paula Creamer winning last month at the Sybase Classic, although Sorenstam took that week off.
 
And if there are comparisons to Tiger Woods' dominance when he won four straight majors at the end of 2000 and the Masters in 2001, history might show competition is on the way.
 
``There's a lot of players out here that can hang with her now,'' Kerr said, although she didn't have a stack of evidence at her side. ``We're not seeing those kinds of players breaking through and winning yet, but we're very close. She's the best player in the world, but we're all pretty good, too, and we're all ready to challenge.''
 
The primary challenge will be the course, which features what is believed to the be longest par 5 in women's golf, the 596-yard 11th hole, which plays slightly downhill.
 
Bulle Rock was the name of a stud horse that James Samuel Patton brought to this continent in the 1730s. He is said to be the father of all thoroughbred horses in America.
 
Length might be an issue if the course doesn't recover from Monday night storms that drenched the fairways, eliminating the roll and leaving some balls on slopes. The good news for players is that tee shots slightly off line are not running through fairways into rough so deep that the only option is to hack out.
 
``It's a great major course, and hopefully I can play good on it,'' Wie said.
 
The phenom from Hawaii is making news even before hitting a shot. Wie has gotten her fill of sponsor's exemptions on the LPGA Tour -- even two on the PGA Tour this year -- but the LPGA Championship has always been for pros, not for someone who just finished the 10th grade.
 
``I understand what they're saying, but I'm just excited to be here,'' Wie said. ``So, it's good.''
 
Everyone is hopeful of a good week at Bulle Rock, a course they won't really know until they start keeping score.
 
Sorenstam is aiming higher than most. She wants this week to be part of something grand.
 
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