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US Hopes and Open Dreams

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When you first arrive in Southern Pines, North Carolina it becomes glaringly evident why everything is named Pine something.

Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Course, host of the 56th United States Womens Open Championship, is like all else in this area, gently tucked in fields of towering pine trees.
 
This week, what is normally a sleepy southern town is buzzing as the worlds top female golfers prepare to duke it out for the 2001 title.
 
The Field:
 
Defending champion Karrie Webb has been all but absent from the scene this season. Currently ranked 5th on the LPGA money list, Webb is looking to break into the scene with a successful defense this week.
 
She will, however, have to out-perform No. 1 ranked Annika Sorenstam, who has won over $1 million after competing in just 10 events this season. Sorenstam, motivated by Webbs performance in 1999 and 2000, is in fighting form.
 
Physically and mentally strong, the two-time Womens Open Champion wants to repeat her 1996 success story. I am very happy with the way Im playing, Annika said early in the week. This week I feel very good about my game.
 
The last time the Open was held at Pine Needles (1996) Annika finished at 8-under-par to successfully defend her title. With a win this week Sorenstam will join Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1948, 1950, 1954), Susie Maxwell Berning (1968, 1972, 1973), and Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978, 1984) as the only women to have won the Open three times.
 
I really dont remember too much in 96, Sorenstam said. I wanted to come back and see the course again, and just kind of get ready for this week.
 
Carin Koch, winner of last weeks Corning Classic, hopes to become the first person in 25-years to win this major after winning the week prior.
 
20 Amateurs are playing in this years event, including the oldest qualifier in the history of the US Womens Open, 52-year-old Carol Semple Thompson, and this year's youngest qualifier, 13-year-old Morgan Pressel.
 
The youngest player in Womens Open history is Beverly Klass, who competed at the age of 10. But that was before you had to qualify for the Womens Open.

Semple Thompson became the oldest contestant to qualify and compete in the Womens Open. This is also the 86th USGA Championship she will play in.
 
Conversely, Pressel, who qualified while she was 12-years-old after shooting 70 at Bear Lakes Country Club, looks to hold her own with the big girls.
 
I expect to pretty much ' logically Im going to finish last, Pressel said. But I should, Im the youngest person here. Everyone else has so much more experience than me.
 
If I made the cut Id be very, very happy.
 
Weather conditions look good for the morning tee times while scattered showers may tamper with afternoon conditions.
 
The first group tees off Thursday at 7:30 a.m. A group well worth starting your day with is the trio of Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Meg Mallon - who are scheduled to tee off the 10th hole at 8:00 a.m.
 
Semple Thompson, Kellee Booth and Danielle Ammaccapane tee off the first at 2:00 p.m., and if you hang out there a few minutes you will see Morgan Pressel tee off with Ashli Bunch and Heather Daly-Donofrio.
 
Full field and tee times from the 56th U.S. Women's Open