Thursday, the best women in the world will tee it up and let it fly in our sports first major of the calendar year. They call it the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the venue is the Southern California desert. Next week, the men will go after glory, and each other, at the Masters Tournament.
It was unusually breezy and unseasonably cool Tuesday at Mission Hills Country Club, where in two days Karrie Webb will attempt to defend, Annika Sorenstam will attempt to re-assert, and Lorena Ochoa will attempt to win her first major. The forecast for the rest of the week is gradual warming with the mercury possibly reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the weekend.
Ochoa did just about everything else last year on the LPGA. She won her first Player of the Year award. She won more money ($500,000 more than Webb, No. 2 on the money list) than anybody else in womens golf. And to cap it all off, she was named Female Athlete of the Year for 2006 by the Associated Press.
Sorenstam, for her part, won six times, including the U.S. Womens Open. Yet when she arrived here in Rancho Mirage she found herself answering questions about how she will feel late Sunday if Ochoa wins and she doesnt'an outcome, by the way, that will jump Ochoa past Sorenstam and into the top spot in the Rolex world rankings.
Of course, I look at the rankings, Sorenstam said Tuesday. But thats not something I look at when Im out there on the course.
And what about Ochoa narrowing the gap in the rankings? Its good for the tour; its exciting and its a positive, Sorenstam said.
Ochoa arrived fresh from Arizona where on Sunday she birdied four of the last five holes to win the Safeway International. Notable players missing the cut last week included Webb, Cristie Kerr, Se Ri Pak and Natalie Gulbis.
Last week really caught me off guard, Webb said. I got off to a poor start Thursday and just never recovered. She added that she didnt expect there would be a carryover effect into this week.
Anyway, the potential is here this week for a changing of the guard in womens golf. Its an especially tall order for Ochoa, who lost in a playoff to Webb in this event last year. Sorenstam, after all, has won the Kraft Nabisco three previous times and has collected 10 major championship trophies.
Im trying to be patient, Ochoa said.
The women have golfs big stage this week unlike past years when this championship competed with the PGA TOURS Players Championship AND the NCAA mens basketball tournament on the same weekend.
This time well have a Kraft Nabisco winner Sunday, a national hoops champion Monday night and the Masters beginning three days after that.
Welcome to the major leagues.