Sorenstam Half-Way to Grand Slam

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2005 U.S. WomenAnnika Sorenstam's toughest challenger might be history. No one has won the first three legs of the professional Grand Slam, male or female. Ever since Arnold Palmer resurrected the notion in 1960 of sweeping the four majors in one calendar year, only five other players have even made it halfway there. Then again, Sorenstam is unlike any other.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has won six of her eight starts this season.
'She is a different breed,' said Pat Bradley, the last woman to win the first two majors of the year. 'She is so solid in everything she does. She has no weakness. She does not take anything for granted. She does not say, 'Who's going to finish second?' She treats each week as a separate tournament.'
 
Rosie Jones was a mere bystander at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in late March, finishing eight shots behind in second place. The competition came from 15-year-old Michelle Wie at the LPGA Championship, where Sorenstam played the par 5s in 3 over par and bogeyed the last two holes ' and still won by three shots.
 
The next stop on this incredible journey is the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver, at 6,749 yards the longest course in the 60-year history of the championship.
 
Her most daunting opponent might not be a player, but the pressure of closing in on an audacious goal that Sorenstam stated at the start of the year.
 
'I know it's going to be a lot of pressure,' Sorenstam said. 'That's the goal I set, and if I want to achieve my goal, that's what I will have to accept.'
 
Defending champion Meg Mallon compared her with Babe Ruth pointing to center field during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs and hitting the next pitch over the fence.
 
'She called her shot, just like the Babe,' Mallon said. 'That would be pretty amazing if she did it.'
 
That's not a concession, however.
 
Mallon beat her last year at Orchards Golf Club in western Massachusetts. Mallon closed with a 6-under 65, the lowest final round in Women's Open history, to beat Sorenstam by two shots.
 
Three years ago at Prairie Dunes in Kansas, Sorenstam had a two-shot lead going into the final round and looked unbeatable until Juli Inkster fired a 4-under 66 for a two-shot victory.
 
And to show that Sorenstam indeed is human, she needed a birdie on the par-5 18th hole at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003 to win the Women's Open, but hit her 4-wood next to a portable toilet, wound up taking bogey and finished one stroke out of a playoff won by unheralded Hilary Lunke.
 
Sorenstam returns to Colorado for the first time in 10 years, when she claimed her first LPGA Tour victory at the U.S. Women's Open by overcoming a five-shot deficit and her own nerves down the stretch to win at the Broadmoor. She repeated as champion the next year at Pine Needles, winning by six shots.
 
But she hasn't won the biggest tournament in women's golf the last eight years.
 
'There was nothing else I could have done,' Sorenstam said about her losses to Mallon and Inkster. 'Sometimes that just happens. We'll see what happens this year.'
 
Her well-rounded game can be traced to some time spent with the men ' first at the Colonial two years ago, where she became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour; then a few friendly practice rounds with Tiger Woods, with whom she shares an agent.
 
Sorenstam sent Woods a text message after winning the LPGA Championship ' '9-9' ' reminding him that they now are tied in career majors. This might be one race that Woods will lose.
 
'We worked on our short games together this fall. You can't believe how hard she works,' Woods said. 'She didn't get to this level by just hoping she could play well. She went out and worked, and took it to another level.'
 
Mallon and Inkster are among the few who have taken on Sorenstam during a final round and defeated her, and it's that kind of experience that might be required.
 
Cristie Kerr is the highest-ranked player behind Sorenstam on the LPGA money list, but her victory in Kingsmill was her first with Sorenstam in the field.
 
Wie should not be overlooked, either, especially after a whirlwind week. She not only finished second at the LPGA Championship ' the only player to break par all four days ' but she was co-medalist at a 36-hole qualifier for the U.S. Amateur Public Links, becoming the first female to qualify at a USGA championship for adult males.
 
Wie has finished second twice on the LPGA Tour this year, both times in her first tournament after competing against men.
 
'She put a lot of pressure on herself last year saying she wanted to win the Grand Slam,' Wie said. 'This year, she has a very high possibility. She has two more left, but I think all the other players, including me, are going to practice harder trying to stop her.'
 
Sorenstam has a presence about her that compares with Woods when he won nine times, including three straight majors, in his record-setting 2000 season.
 
'You'd like to see pressure put on her to make a mistake ' put a little tightness in her swing, put a little tightness in her putt,' Mallon said. 'The thing is, she separates herself so much, there isn't that coming-down-the-stretch business. She gets it done. Whether she has a psychological advantage on her opponents, that could very well be.'
 
Bradley recalls winning the first two majors in 1986 with little fanfare, but it became unavoidable when she arrived at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, for the Women's Open. There was no ducking the hype, and she said she put herself under so much stress that she suffered headaches.
 
'It was very difficult to go about my business, and I shot 76 the first day,' Bradley said.
 
She wound up two shots out of a playoff, in a tie for fifth. She went on to win the du Maurier Classic, making her the last woman to win three majors in one year.
 
Sorenstam has been in the spotlight since the start of the season, when she again said the Grand Slam was her primary goal, and she has not backed off. She already has won six of the eight tournaments she has played, and she made the first two majors look easy.
 
'I don't think anything is going to stop her,' Bradley said. 'I believe in my heart that Annika is the only one who can do this. She has embraced it, she has declared it, she is doing everything in her power to have it happen.'
 
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