No More Waiting for Annika

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour when she teed off at the Colonial this morning, hitting an opening drive 243 yards in the fairway.
 
After years of dreaming and three months of hype, the wait finally ended for Sorenstam as she parred the first hole.
 
A crowd of media and fans were stacked 10-12 deep around the No. 10 tee, and the fairway on the 404-yard hole was lined with spectators -- many of them women wearing 'Go Annika' buttons.
 
Sorenstam, the No. 1 female player in the world, started with PGA Tour rookies Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber. Hitting a 3-wood, she outdrove Wilson and Barber, though both hit their first shots with irons. Sorenstam then slumped in mock relief and laughed before walking down the fairway.
 
After hitting a 9-iron from 143 yards to just more than 15 feet, Sorenstam two-putted for a par.
 
When she started the short walk from the clubhouse to the No. 10 tee, the crowd broke into applause. After being introduced, Sorenstam acknowledged the cheering crowd with waves to both sides of the tee before hitting her drive.
 
Like everybody else, Sorenstam was ready to find out how she scores and how she copes with all the attention of being the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the tour.
 
'I can't prepare any more,' Sorenstam said Wednesday after her final practice round. 'I've been waiting for this day for a long time. I've been practicing a lot the last few months and I want the day to come. It's here. So whatever happens, happens.'
 
Las Vegas oddsmakers gave Sorenstam a 500-1 chance of winning, and they were being generous.
 
Sorenstam's final practice round on the par-70 course ended on the 11th fairway Wednesday when the pro-am was called because of steady rain. She was at least 1 over par, having picked up her ball on a couple of holes.
 
The 7,080-yard Colonial layout is a longer, tougher course than any she has played in competition. The LPGA's Corning Classic in New York this week is at 6,062-yard course being played as a par 72.
 
But rain the previous two days might have provided a break, making the normally crusty and firm Colonial greens more forgiving, allowing Sorenstam to aim at the flag with long irons and her 7-wood.
 
'The course is obviously playing much longer, so the only good news is the greens are softer so I can fire more at the flag,' she said. 'I'm going to hit a few longer clubs than I expected. But luckily, I've got them in my bag, so we'll see what happens.'
 
Sorenstam is under more scrutiny than any player since Tiger Woods made his pro debut in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open.
 
And for the first time in years, Sorenstam started a tournament she is not expecting to win. The 32-year-old Swede said she would be 'so pleased' to shoot par.
 
Sorenstam isn't trying to prove she can beat the boys. She isn't suggesting that the LPGA Tour, where she has won 43 times -- she also has won four majors -- is no longer a challenge.
 
What a sponsor's exemption in the Bank of America Colonial is allowing her to do is find out how her game stacks up against the best in the world. She said a week on the PGA Tour will satisfy her curiosity.
 
'I'm sure she's feeling a lot of pressure, but she's putting it on herself wanting to perform well,' said David Toms, who tied for second last year. 'She's won big tournaments, won a lot of tournaments, and she obviously handles the pressure very well. It will be interesting to see what happens.'
 
Jay Haas said Sorenstam's debut 'might be bigger' than Woods' first pro event.
 
'Was Tiger's debut spread across the front page of the newspaper?' Haas said. 'But it's certainly different. Everyone was talking about Tiger dominating the tour, and they don't think Annika is going to come out here and do that.'
 
While Sorenstam is making history, Nick Price will try to defend his only PGA Tour win since 1998.
 
Price, 46, knows Colonial is one of only a handful of courses where he still has a realistic chance of winning. Plus, he is coming off consecutive top-five finishes and was recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
 
Still, that's not what people have found interesting about Price, who has three majors among his 18 PGA Tour wins.
 
'I think I've answered enough questions about Annika the last three months,' Price said. 'Every one knows what my feelings are on that.'
 
Price, one of the more gracious players in the game, has said Sorenstam's appearance 'reeks of publicity.' And he said five-time Colonial champion Ben Hogan would roll in his grave if he knew what was happening.
 
This week, Price is trying to focus on playing.
 
'The last three or four months have been very uncomfortable,' he said. 'But now we are here, and I'm ready to play. I'm playing well and I'm excited about it.'
 
Price was the runner-up at last week's Byron Nelson Championship after a final-round 65. He tied for fifth in North Carolina the week before that.
 
'He comes back to hallowed ground where he's going to be celebrated and held up in high esteem for his accomplishment, and now he's kind of got to play second fiddle,' tour veteran Dan Forsman said. 'You can't help but to say he's been lost a little bit in all of this.'
 
Then again, that's true for all 113 men at Colonial.
 

Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     

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