Annika a Perfect 10 in Stellar Season


Even as young up-and-comers commanded headlines during the LPGA Tour's 2005 season -- and they did, almost weekly -- a steely veteran was still able to defend her turf as the best women's golfer in the world.
Resilience to challenge may be Annika Sorenstam's most invaluable quality, the one that has enabled her to be so good for so long. And for that alone she could be considered one of the most dominant athletes in the world.
But for us, it's just one of many reasons we consider her the best.
That Sorenstam won 10 times on the LPGA Tour in 2005 is not surprising. In fact, nothing she accomplished during the season -- not winning her sixth Vare Trophy for scoring average, nor earning better than $2 million for the fifth straight year while no one else has even done it once -- could be considered so.
But it's exactly that almost robotic consistency which elevates Sorenstam to a level of excellence enjoyed by similarly dominant athletes like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam's win at the season-ending ADT Championship was her 10th triumph of the year.
She deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, and not just at the end of the exhale. So let's look at her year.
Sorenstam shot under par in 52 of her 70 rounds in 2005, and her 10 victories came in just 20 starts. She finished in the top 10 in 15 of those tournaments.
Her first three wins came in three straight tournaments in March -- the MasterCard Classic, the Safeway International and the first LPGA major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which she won by eight shots.
Sorenstam then won the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship and the ShopRite LPGA Classic by a combined 14 shots, before beating teenager Michelle Wie by three strokes in the year's second major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
Three months later, in September, Sorenstam edged rookie Paula Creamer by a shot in the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic for her seventh title of the year. Her eighth win also came against Creamer, an eight-stroke victory in the Samsung World Championship.
Sorenstam then finished off her year with two victories in November, at the Mizuno Classic and the season-ending ADT Championship.
The win at the ADT Championship -- her 66th title in 12 full seasons on the LPGA Tour -- did not come without controversy. Sorenstam was involved in a bit of a row with Creamer over a drop at the 18th hole during the first round; her fierce defense that she should be allowed a drop, despite Creamer's insistence that she should re-tee, exemplified not only her unparalleled knowledge of the rule book, but also an unwillingness to cede even a sliver of the high ground she has earned as the best women's golfer in the world.
Some might call such displays arrogance -- and some of us have -- but to watch it unfold live was to watch an athlete at the peak of her career, with 65 titles in her pocket, battling tooth-and-nail for No. 66.
Sorenstam's dominance in 2005 extended somewhat to the Solheim Cup -- she lost just once, in the Saturday morning foursomes matches -- but it didn't keep the United States from improving to 5-0 on home soil with a 15 1/2 - 12 1/2 victory at Crooked Stick.
The Solheim Cup is a chalk pick for Tournament of the Year, but a good one nonetheless. This year's edition included good storylines.
United States captain Nancy Lopez took her duties seriously, orchestrating a campaign of bonding between the American women, some of whom were part of a bad loss to the Europeans in 2003. She organized practice rounds and several dinners, and gathered the 12 women together for wine and movies.
It paid dividends.
Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer helped lead a new wave of American women to a Solheim Cup victory.
The patriotism which is always a feature of the fashion -- temporary tattoos on cheeks, appropriately-colored hair accoutrements -- spilled over into a nationalistic fervor at this year's Solheim Cup, displayed by players and fans alike and fueled by a tangible feeling of togetherness among the teammates.
Christina Kim emerged as a loud, feisty competitor. Creamer boldly guaranteed victory, and then went 3-1-1 in her Solheim Cup debut. Both players, along with fellow first-timer Natalie Gulbis, helped the U.S. Solheim Cup rookies go 8-3-2.
It was, as Lopez offered afterwards, like a dream.
'They were ready,' she said. 'The players played their hearts out.'
When Meg Mallon rolled in a six-foot par save at the 16th on Sunday, she halved the hole with Karen Stupples and went 2-up with two to play. That assured the American side a half point, which was enough to give them the 14 1/2 points needed to win the Solheim Cup.
Mallon became the all-time leading point winner in American Solheim Cup history with her defeat of Stupples. But more than that, her putt provided a sigh of relief for the Americans, who needed just a half point to win, but were behind in most of the final matches.
'What a great feeling,' said Mallon, who was in the opposite spot in 1992 when Europe clinched the Solheim Cup in her singles match. 'I'm so proud of [my teammates]. We had to play exceptional to beat them. What a match.'
And what a rookie year for Mallon's teammate, the 19-year-old Creamer.
Creamer's list of accomplishments in 2005 is impressive: a two-time winner and the youngest champion on the LPGA Tour in 52 years; second to Sorenstam on the money list with more than $1.5 million; 11 top-10 finishes in 25 starts; first in putting average; and, maybe most importantly, the most-successful of the LPGA's young up-and-comers.
Michelle Wie may have garnered headlines for playing with the guys while being too young to drive a car, among other things, but she was one of two players who finished second, by eight strokes, to Creamer at the Evian Masters.
That win alone would make Creamer a good choice for Rookie of the Year.
Lost in the shuffle somewhat were the good seasons put together by some other LPGA pros.
Cristie Kerr finished third on the money list with better than $1.35 million and was the only player besides Sorenstam and Creamer to win twice (at the Michelob Ultra Open and the Wendy's Championship).
Jeong Jang played alongside Sorenstam in the final round of the Women's British Open and finished off a wire-to-wire victory for her first career title. She put together 15 top-10 finishes in 27 starts and finished fifth on the money list.
Natalie Gulbis had her best year as a pro -- she placed sixth on the money list with more than $1 million and had her reality show debut on the Golf Channel -- but is still seeking that elusive first win.
Sherri Steinhauer, a 20-year pro, managed just one top-10 finish in her 25 starts during the 2005 season. She finishes in the top 20 in just one major statistical category.

Related Links:
  • The Year in Review