Annika Readies for Yet Another Title Defense


SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- In its 27-year history, the Phoenix area has seen its annual tournament staged on five venues. It is tough to say what venue Annika Sorenstam likes the most since she shot 59 in Phoenix, but one would have to assume that the Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club, which plays host to this week's $1.4 million Safeway International Presented by Coca-Cola, has to rank up there. After all, she has never lost there.
For somebody who is only playing her second tournament of the year, there is a lot on the line. This week, Sorenstam will try to defend her title, win the fourth consecutive LPGA event she has competed in and fine tune her swing for the upcoming first major of the season. The first 72-hole tournament on the 2006 schedule boasts a $210,000 first-place check and-new in 2006-offers an all-inclusive stay at one of Canyon Ranch's two destination resorts, which is presented to all LPGA tournament winners.
In 2005, Sorenstam charged back from a four-stroke deficit in the last three holes to force, and eventually win, a sudden-death playoff against Lorena Ochoa, who had been sitting atop the leader board the entire tournament. Now, the stage is set for a rematch in the desert. Sorenstam may only be playing in her second event, but Ochoa will be competing in her fourth of the season, and this week she is ready to settle some unfinished business.
In addition to Ochoa, the best of the best will be on hand this week trying to deny Sorenstam her 68th LPGA win.
The first two winners of the year-South Korea's Joo Mi Kim and Meena Lee-are present this week, as is rookie Seon Hwa Lee, who is currently atop the ADT Official Money List after two runner-up finishes in three events. Natalie Gulbis, who is the only player on Tour this year to record a top-five finish in every event, is also on hand and poised to stake claim to her first career LPGA victory.
Although no member of the 2006 LPGA Tour Rookie class has yet to win a tournament, the newcomers have made their presence known in the first two events of the year. Leading the race for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors is the aforementioned Lee, who has 204 points after three events. Second is Paraguay's Julieta Granada with 144 points. Morgan Pressel, who is back playing this week after skipping the MasterCard Classic Honoring Alejo Peralta, is third with 113 points. In all, nine of the top-10 2006 rookies are in this week's field.
Although not in the initial tournament field, Finland's Minea Blomqvist is hoping to go three-for-three in Monday Qualifiers and play her way into the Safeway International Presented by Coca-Cola and improve on her No. 10 ranking among the 2006 rookies.
The tournament also boasts two of the most talented amateurs in the world as Esther Choe and Angela Park, both of California, earned their sponsor exemptions by claiming the top two spots at the Safeway International Amateur Open, which was held Feb. 9 and consisted of 22 amateurs with a 2.0 handicap or better. Park and Choe are ranked second and sixth respectively by the 2006 GolfWeek/Titleist Performance Ranking for junior girls.
However, this week is not all about the young guns on Tour. Savvy veterans Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon and Rosie Jones make their LPGA debuts this week and all want to send a message that the LPGA Tour is not all about one Swede and an ongoing youth movement.
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