With Winning Streak Over Annika Refocuses

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LPGA logo for LeaderboardsWhen Annika Sorenstam walked off the course, her chances of extending her winning streak firmly intact again, a fan leaned over the railing of the grandstands and yelled, 'We're pulling for six!' Not anymore. Now it's back to pulling for one.
 
Sorenstam's bid for a record sixth consecutive win fell apart in one hole Sunday afternoon. But there's another tournament this week, and her game is so strong she could start another streak any time she plays.
 
'I was ready to play, it just didn't happen unfortunately,' she said after ending her streak with a tie for 12th at the Michelob Ultra Open on Sunday. 'I am a little sad about that. But I will dig deep and come back next week and play well.'
 
The rest of the LPGA Tour should consider itself warned.
 
Sorenstam has long dominated the tour, winning 59 tournaments and seven player of the year awards in 11-plus seasons. But her run over the last six months has been particularly spectacular.
 
She arrived at the Michelob Ultra Open having won five straight tournaments, matching Nancy Lopez's record that had stood since 1978. She'd won running away and coming from behind. One of the victories was at a major championship.
 
She had played 43 straight rounds at par or better, and hadn't finished a tournament above par in almost two years.
 
But she was stymied by the rebuilt greens on Kingsmill's River Course. She finished 10 shots behind winner Cristie Kerr, giving up at least a dozen strokes on missed putts, most only a few inches off. She averaged 30 putts per round.
 
'I'm not going to find any excuses for it. It was totally me,' said Sorenstam, who took a longer-than-normal five-week break after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship. 'I just didn't putt very well.'
 
If she had, the talk this week might be about making a run at Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight victories, not starting over.
 
'I am disappointed, there is no doubt about it,' she said. 'I just have to start over and maybe I can do another streak.'
 
She certainly has the game for one. She leads the tour in greens in regulation, and is second in driving distance. At Kingsmill, her tee shots were routinely 10 or 15 yards ahead of her playing partners, and she had one that carried 300 yards.
 
Nothing rattles her, either. While other players struggled with winds that gusted up to 25 mph Sunday morning, Sorenstam was one of 11 players to shoot under par (69). That put her in a tie for fifth place - a pretty good leap for someone who was in danger of missing the cut after the first round.
 
'There is a lot of good things out there,' she said of her game. 'It's just that I couldn't really put it together. I thought I drove it well at times. I am hitting it further. I always play aggressive.
 
'It's gonna work, I know it will,' she added. 'It's just a matter of patience and hanging in there.'
 
Especially since, no offense to the rest of the tour, no one's presented much of a challenge. Old foes Karrie Webb, Grace Park and Se Ri Pak haven't been much of a factor lately. Youngsters like Natalie Gulbis are improving, but have yet to show they can stand up to Sorenstam week after week.
 
Kerr might be the one to make things interesting. She's made it clear she wants to be not just the best in the United States, but among the best in the world. She's second to Sorenstam on the money list and in the player of the year rankings, and the Michelob Ultra Open was her fifth career victory, fourth since the start of 2004.
 
And now she's finally shown she can beat Sorenstam. Her other victories came when the Swede was out of the field, and she failed in two previous chances to end Sorenstam's winning streak.
 
'To know that you can play that well and beat the best players in the world - perhaps be one of the best players in the world - is a great feeling,' Kerr said. 'I feel like I reached a new level in my game.'
 
She'll get plenty of chances to test that out in the coming weeks. Though Sorenstam refused to blame her extended break for her poor showing, she's entering a stretch where she'll be playing a lot and that can only help her game.
 
Plus, there are those two majors looming next month. The streak Sorenstam really wants is the grand slam, and she's already won one.
 
'Just because I didn't win here, I am not going to take all that away from me,' she said. 'I did win five times. I won Nabisco, which is what I wanted to do. I'm not complaining by any means. I'm just a little frustrated about the last few days. But life goes on.
 
'It's a new tournament next week, and hopefully I can read those greens.'
 
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