The 2002 Kraft Nabisco, the first major championship of the season, was one of the most dramatic and entertaining majors in LPGA history. On a personal note, I have personally attended 23 LPGA majors since The Golf Channel went on the air in 1995 and this one was, by far, the best.
Just think of the story lines heading into Sundays final round. Defending champion Annika Sorenstam was trying to become the first woman to win this major championship in consecutive years. The 2000 Kraft Nabisco champ, Karrie Webb, came into this championship having won an improbable five of the past nine majors. If she could do it again, Karries winning percentage in the 10 most recent majors would be 60 percent.
The two dominant players on the LPGA Tour for the past seven seasons were tied for the 54-hole lead with Liselotte Neumann. They would make up Sundays final threesome, meaning Annika and Karrie would play together in the final group of a major championship for the first time ever.
Liselotte was quite a story, in and of herself. Neumann was the first Swede to become a success on the LPGA Tour, winning the U.S. Open during her rookie year of 1988. Heading to the final round, the 35-year-old known as Lotta had 12 career victories. But she was enduring the longest victory drought of her career ' three years and eleven months. She lives part-time here at Mission Hills; and during an off-season in which Lotta re-dedicated herself to her game, she practiced on the Dinah Shore championship course a dozen times.
But the three joint leaders were not the only ones grabbing our attention heading to the final 18. A 45-year-old Hall of Fame player, Beth Daniel, was trying to become the oldest player to win an LPGA major. She started Sunday four shots off the lead, but went out in 33 to get within two of the lead.
At the other end of the experience spectrum was 20-year-old Lorena Ochoa. The all-America sophomore at the University of Arizona was invited to play here after winning all six of her college tournaments this year, and then finishing tied for fifth at the LPGA stop in Tucson as a special invitee. The Mexican native began Sundays final round at 1-under par, in a tie for eighth. She could make history as well. The best showing by an amateur here was Caroline Keggis fourth-place finish in 1988.
There was even more to capture our interest. A 42-year-old, Rosie Jones, was one shot off the lead starting the final round. During her incredible LPGA career, Rosie has won 12 tournaments and finished in the top 10 21 times in major championships. But Jones had never won a major. On Sunday, she was in the hunt again.
How much drama can we stand? All of these stories and more were playing themselves out over the final 18 holes.
Another Swede, Carin Koch, was 5-under through the first 11 holes to move to 4-under and close to the lead. Cristie Kerr, the former teenage phenom, got close to the lead Sunday. She could become just the third first-time winner to capture the Kraft Nabisco.
It boiled down to three players on the back nine - Sorenstam, Neumann and Jones. Sorenstam was amazing, taking the lead with a birdie on the very difficult par-4 10th. Liselotte showed marvelous resiliency after making bogey on the equally easy par-5 11th. Neumann came back with birdies on 12 and 13 to close within one of Sorenstam. Jones just couldnt make that one last birdie and finished tied for third with Kerr.
Annika, who remembers being inspired by watching Lotta win that 88 Open, ended up edging Neumann by one stroke. The victory was the result of a brilliant, bogey-free Sunday 68.
It came down to the last hole, the last putt, the champion said. It was, I think, as exciting as it could be.
Indeed it was, Annika. Thank you.