All Eyes on Annika at Womens Open


2005 U.S. WomenIn 1960, Arnold Palmer drove the par-4 first hole at Cherry Hills Country Club en route to erasing a seven-stroke, final-round deficit and winning the U.S. Open.
Soon thereafter, the notion of a modern Grand Slam was born.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam's drive to the Grand Slam goes through Cherry Hills Country Club.
Palmer had captured each of the first two major championships of the season, and had designs on all four. His dream, however, died at St. Andrews, where he finished runner-up to Kel Nagle in the British Open.
Forty-five years later, Annika Sorenstam has arrived at Cherry Hills with hopes of doing what Palmer ' and everyone else since ' could not.
Since 1960, five players have won the first two majors of the season: Mickey Wright (1961), Jack Nicklaus (1972), Pat Bradley (1986), Tiger Woods (2002) and Sorenstam (2005).
And all have failed to secure that third victory ' at least thus far.
Sorenstam has the opportunity at this weeks U.S. Womens Open to again create history, as she attempts to become the first player ' male or female ' to win the first three legs of the modern, professional Grand Slam.
The 34-year-old Swede has not only won each of the first two majors this season, shes captured nine total for her career. But this may prove to be her toughest test yet.
Sorenstam is only two weeks removed from winning the McDonalds LPGA Championship, which means she has to reclaim her focus immediately. She also has to deal with the pressure of nearing in on the Grand Slam goal that she has stated each of the past two years.
I know its going to be a lot of pressure, Sorenstam said. Thats the goal I set, and if I want to achieve my goal, thats what I will have to accept.
At 6,749 yards (par 71), Cherry Hills is the longest layout in the 60-year history of this championship.
It also joins Hazeltine and Winged Foot as the only courses that have hosted a U.S. Open, U.S. Womens Open and U.S. Senior Open.
Five for the Title:
Annika Sorenstam
The list of favorites really begins and ends with Annika. She won this years Kraft Nabisco Championship by eight strokes. She then won the McDonalds LPGA Championship by three, despite playing the par-5s in 3 over and bogeying the final two holes. Sorenstam is a two-time winner of this event, having won back-to-back in 1995-96. But she has had more downs than ups over the last three years. In 2002, Sorenstam had a two-shot lead entering the final round, only to be passed on Sunday by a streaking Juli Inkster, who closed in 66. In 2003, she needed a birdie on the par-5 18th to win, but made bogey and missed out on a playoff by a shot. And last year, she started the final round tied for second with Meg Mallon, but couldnt keep Mallons pace and finished second. So there is hope for everyone else ' even if just a little.
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie has competed in the U.S. Women's Open three times, tying for 13th last year.
Wie didnt need a hand-out to get into this major; she qualified based on her tie for 13th at the Orchards Golf Club last year. The 15-year-old has received a lot of criticism over the exemptions she has received to play on the LPGA Tour. But she fed plenty of people a plate of crow two weeks ago, when she finished runner-up to Sorenstam at the McDonalds. She has the length to compete at Cherry Hills; she just needs to improve her short game to mount a serious victory march.
Juli Inkster
Inkster denied Sorenstam the title at Prairie Dunes and shed love to do it again at Cherry Hills. A two-time winner (1999, 2002), the 45-year-old has the pedigree and the experience to possibly end Annikas Grand Slam run. Inkster, whose swing coach, Mike McGetrick, lives in nearby Denver, went head-to-head with Sorenstam earlier this year at the ShopRite Classic. Tied for the lead to start the final round, Sorenstam shot 64 to Inksters 68.
Cristie Kerr
Kerr is the top-ranked American, leading the U.S. in Solheim Cup points. She ended Sorenstams five-tournament winning streak earlier this year at the Michelob Ultra Open. It marked her fifth career tour title, and her first win with Sorenstam in the field. This will be her 10th Open appearance. She has a pair of top-5 finishes, including a runner-up showing in 2000; though, she finished five back of Karrie Webb that year. She tied for third at this years Kraft Nabisco, 10 behind Sorenstam.
Meg Mallon
The defending champion, Mallon won her second Open title by firing the lowest closing round in the championships history. Mallon shot 6-under 65 to pass third-round leader Jennifer Rosales and pull away from Sorenstam. The 42-year-old doesnt have a top-10 in nine starts this season, but she always seems to fare well at this event. Mallon has eight career top-10s in the Open, including wins in 1991 and 2004.
Playing Out the Front Nine
Four more players to keep an eye on
*Lorena Ochoa, who won her first title of the year at last week's Wegmans Rochester LPGA. The 24-year-old Mexican has top-10 finishes in every major except the U.S. Open. She tied for fifth at the McDonalds.
*Laura Davies, who would qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame with a win this week. Davies won this tournament in 1987 but wasnt a member of the tour. Because of that technicality, she is still two points shy from earning Hall of Fame status. She was only two behind Sorenstam after two rounds of the McDonalds, but shot 74-71 over the weekend to finish five back. Her length should be a major asset at Cherry Hills.
*Paula Creamer, who became the youngest tour winner in over 50 years this season. The 18-year-old won the Sybase Classic last month, just prior to her high school graduation. She is competing in her third Open. She tied Wie for 13th place a year ago. She also finished third at the McDonalds and was runner-up to Ochoa last week.
*Rosie Jones, who has competed in 86 major championships without a win. Jones is retiring at the end of the season. This would be a great going away gift for the 45-year-old. Shes very short off the tee, but has the short game and the grit to be a factor.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Women's Open