Sorenstam Ready to Go

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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Annika Sorenstam was playing just like the guys in her group. She was hitting fairways, reaching some greens and leaving herself in position for pars and maybe even a birdie or two.
 
The gallery had grown to more than a hundred curious people by the time she hit her drive at No. 7, just missing the fairway into the right rough.
 
She got the ball back in the fairway, but only a few yards ahead after it ricocheted off a tree. Her approach landed in a greenside bunker, then she skipped a shot across the green into another one.
 
But Sorenstam wasn't keeping score Tuesday, for the good or the bad. It was only a practice round.
 
'I probably played nine good holes and nine bad holes,' she said after the round ended her nearly 13-hour day at Colonial Country Club.
 
On Thursday, Sorenstam will become the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour when she tees off in the Colonial. Every stroke will count and the crowds will be several times larger.
 
Only one player gets this much attention on the PGA Tour, and Tiger Woods is nowhere near the Colonial.
 
Nearly 600 media credentials have been issued, quadruple the normal for the tournament. Reporters and cameras document her every move, and a security detail surrounds her every step.
 
The spotlight is shining fully on Sorenstam.
 
'I'm still overwhelmed and I can't believe how many of you guys are here,' Sorenstam said. 'When I accepted the invitation, I must have been very naive. I'm doing this to test myself, and I didn't think everybody else wanted to test me at the same time.'
 
Sorenstam only wants to see how her game -- the best in women's golf -- will stack up against the men. After years of dreaming and three months of hype, the 32-year-old Swede is about to find out.
 
During her practice round Tuesday afternoon with Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnevik and Tim Clark, Sorenstam at times split the fairway with her tee shots. She also hit into the elements -- trees, sand, water -- and often hit multiple shots.
 
'The course is tough, but I loved this,' Sorenstam said. 'I had a good time and the guys were very nice. Sergio especially taught me shots and shared some of his information. That's one of the reasons I'm here, it was perfect.'
 
After Sorenstam blasted a couple of balls out of the bunker at No. 7, Garcia -- the 2001 Colonial champ -- offered a few tips. She got to test what he told her at No. 8, hitting out of a bunker to about 6 feet on the par 3.
 
'If I shoot level par, I'll be so pleased,' Sorenstam said.
 
Parnevik, who joined the group for the final 13 holes, said Sorenstam seemed relaxed. And while he thinks she will shoot better than some expect, he believes it will be tough for her to make the cut.
 
'I would think if she breaks 75 two days in a row, that would be realistic,' he said. 'To make the cut, she will have to play her very best, and some.'
 
Ever since she decided in February to play on the PGA Tour, accepting a sponsor's exemption from Bank of America, Sorenstam has been besieged by questions: What will she shoot? Will she make the cut? How will she handle the pressure?
 
Like everybody else, she is ready to find out.
 
'I'm prepared. If I wait another week, three months or three years, I won't be any more prepared. I'm ready to go,' she said. 'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to enjoy the week.'
 
The last woman to play on the PGA Tour was Babe Zaharias in 1945. She qualified for the Los Angeles Open and made the 36-hole cut, but was eliminated after a third-round 76.
 
Sorenstam will play the first two rounds with PGA Tour rookies Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber. All of their names, picked randomly by a computer, were drawn out of the category of players who haven't won or finished in the top 125 on the money list.
 
'It's a unique experience to be able to play with her in a tournament atmosphere like this,' said Wilson, who Tuesday wore a 'Go Annika' button he bought for $3 at Colonial's pro shop.
 
Some PGA Tour players have criticized Sorenstam's decision to play, and defending Colonial champ Nick Price called her appearance a publicity stunt. Barber and Wilson disagreed.
 
'She has every right to be in this tournament, and I'm all for her playing well,' Wilson said.
 
Barber said Sorenstam has 'earned this opportunity based on her resume.'
 
The most-watched group at Colonial starts on the 10th tee Thursday at 8:58 a.m., the last morning trio on the course. Their second round begins on the first tee at 1:43 p.m. Friday.
 
Woods called Sorenstam on her cell phone Monday morning to offer some final tips -- mostly how to cope with the media. He told her she better play well because he would be watching.
 
Along with millions of others.
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     

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