Woods leaves us here because he simply has no rival. But Sorenstam has Webb, and Webb has Sorenstam. You may not have heard much about them if you dont follow golf. Neither are extroverts. Neither have Tigers smile and charm. Neither is from the United States ' Sorenstam is from Sweden, Webb from Australia. But they have progressed to a point where no one is their equal. Clearly, what we have is a rivalry.
They arent close, but both say they are friends. They made a commercial together in which they spoofed the rivalry. Since 1996 this has been brewing, the year Webb made her debut as a rookie of the U.S. tour with a run all the way up the ladder to No. 1.
Webb is 26 now, Sorenstam 30, both in their prime golfing years. Sorenstam started this year with an unbelievable run, shooting a 59 in one torrid round, racing out to four wins in a row after Webb won the money title the last two years. Webb had sat out five weeks earlier this year, but last week won a convincing victory by successfully defending her U.S. Open title.
Was it a situation of Sorenstam getting dramatically better this year, or of Webb slipping a little?
I definitely think Annika has brought her game up, said Webb. Shes playing incredibly good golf.
When you have someone like Annika that is playing extremely well, it looks like Ive dropped off a little bit. Instead, I think she stepped up a lot. I think I may have dropped off a bit in my standards, but I dont think the standards I set the last two years are some that youre going to expect to maintain for your whole career.
Sorenstam obviously believes she has elevated her game. She was No. 1 for three of four years starting in 1994. Webb came along and Sorenstam has had to settle for something less. She hasnt been difficult about it publicly, but obviously Sorenstam did work exceptionally hard to get back on top.
You know, I think I got motivated in 99 when I finished fourth on the money list, Sorenstam said. I just realized thats not where I wanted to be. Im not happy with that. I want to be the best player out here.
Normally, she would have been very happy with last year. After all, she won five times. But Webb won seven times, including two majors. Sorenstam wasnt pleased.
I personally think I had a good year last year. Winning five times was really good for me, she said.
It was just that Karrie had an exceptional year. I felt like I was on the right track. And I can see at the beginning of this year that the results are coming. Im obviously very happy about that. I have stepped up my practice. Im trying to become better in every aspect of the game, and its paying off.
Webb has some catching up to do if she intends to match Sorenstam in wins. The five-week gap in her LPGA schedule means she will have to get the wins in bunches. She isnt complaining ' she says she meant to take the break last year, before it was evident that Sorenstam was going to put some impressive numbers on the board.
And Webb isnt as single-minded about being No. 1, at least publicly. Shes willing to give others a shot at it occasionally ' she says.
I know some people expect that of the top athletes, says Webb. But for me, personally, I dont believe thats a possibility, as much as I would like it.
This year is not over by any means. The biggest tournaments are yet to come (before she won the Open.) And if I play pretty decently throughout the summer, I still feel that Im going to end up with a pretty good year.
She professes not to be overly concerned with being No. 1, but just see what happens if Sorenstam beats her. She says its no big deal, but deep inside, yes, its a big deal. The rivalry is there, and both realize it.
I really dont know, said Webb, its a rivalry because the last five-and-a-half years one of us has finished No. 1. Its a rivalry because weve played so well for such a long period of time that were bound to look like rivals, because were always trying for the trophies.
But I think thats as far as it goes. Obviously Annika has told people that my last couple of years motivated her to get her game in better shape and play better each year. And her play motivates me ' I dont think I can work any harder on my game.
The women have got something going here. Its friendly, but its still real. The men have Tiger ' and then the rest. The women have Annika AND Karrie. And its real.