LPGA Rooting For Their Girl Annika

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CORNING, N.Y. (AP) -- There's a buzz in the air at the Corning Classic, and not just at the gnat-infested 10th hole.
 
The LPGA's top player isn't here -- Annika Sorenstam is playing against the men at Colonial -- and she's on everybody's mind.
 
``The players are talking about it in the locker room,'' Rosie Jones said Wednesday after competing in a pro-am tournament. ``We're all anxious for her and secretly holding our pompoms nearby because we want her to go out there and kick some butt.''
 
Jones said she was hoping to catch some of the Colonial on TV before teeing off each day. She won't be watching alone.
 
``We're all very interested to see how she'll do,'' defending Corning champion Laura Diaz said. ``She's about to do one of the hardest things in sports, and everybody is very supportive. We're all pulling for her and looking forward to her coming in in the top 20.''
 
Jones, 43, is coming off her first victory of the season and 13th of her career. She won the Asahi Ryokuken International two weeks ago to stop a string of 17 straight tour wins by foreign-born players.
 
``I was not really surprised that I played well, but I was kind of surprised that I won,'' Jones said. ``Usually by then I've at least recorded a couple of top 10s, but I hadn't done that.''
 
Even with Sorenstam missing, the Corning Classic boasted one of the strongest fields in its 25-year history -- 15 of this year's top 20 money-winners will be playing for the $150,000 first prize.
 
Diaz, born and raised in Scotia, N.Y., led all four rounds last year and finished at 14-under 274, beating Jones by two strokes to become the first native New Yorker to win Corning.
 
``The only difference in defending is that more people know that you won the tournament,'' said Diaz, who finished tied for third two weeks ago behind Jones. ``It's very nice to have people walk by you and say, 'Hey, defending champ.' That's a great feeling.''
 
Jones knows that feeling. She and Hall of Famer Betsy King are the only players to win Corning twice. In addition to her wins here in 1996 and 1997, Jones has five other top-5 finishes on the narrow 6,062-yard Corning Country Club course and has won the most money -- $499,801.
 
``Somehow, I always seem to have a good tournament here,'' Jones said. ``I could miss the cut the week before and then win the Corning Classic, which is really weird.''
 
Diaz, who is nursing a torn tendon in her left ankle, and Jones both were hoping for warm weather. That wasn't likely.
 
``Today it was kind of cold, and those kind of rounds I don't think really count because I'm not really feeling the golf club very well,'' Jones said. ``Hopefully, it gets a little bit warmer so that I can feel the golf ball.''
 
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