Another Wonderful Year For Annika and LPGA

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One year ago, the story of the golf world was a women playing with men. It happened with Annika Sorenstam on the PGA Tour, Michelle Wie on the Nationwide and Canadian Tours and Se Ri Pak in Asia. Heck, even Jan Stephenson competed on the Champions Tour.
 
In 2004, only Wie played in a high-profile event, the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA Tour. The story of this year's campaign was stellar golf, an outstanding national championship and one lady who just gets better and better.
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
There are few things you can rely on in your life. The sun will rise in the morning, the Los Angeles Clippers will stink every year and Annika Sorenstam will be the Player of the Year in women's golf.
 
Sorenstam won eight titles in 2004, including another major at the LPGA Championship. She picked up two more victories internationally and tallied four runner-up finishes. The Swede was in the top-10 in 16 of her 18 starts this season. The other two finishes - ties for 13th at the Nabisco Championship and Women's British Open.
 
Sorenstam pocketed $2,544,707 for another money title, her seventh. In fact, she took home over $1 million more than second place finisher Grace Park. Sorenstam matched her own LPGA record scoring average of 68.70, which she originally set in 2002, the same year she won 11 times and netted 20 top-10s in 23 starts.
 
The interesting thing about the comparison about the 2002 and 2004 campaigns is the number of starts. Twenty-three versus 18. Sorenstam has never been shy about being interested in things outside the golf world, namely having a family. At 34, the clock might be ticking so get your fill of Annika while you can.
 
That being said, can Sorenstam walk away from this? She is a fearless competitor who thrives on tournament action. Sorenstam is now 32 wins behind Kathy Whitworth for first all-time. Sounds like a lot, but think about this. She has won 38 times since 2000 and doesn't seem to be falling off the pace. Figure sometime around mid-2008 for Annika to be the career wins leader in LPGA Tour history.
 
Presumably she will stick around to try and break that although if 2004 taught her anything, it's that she can play a relatively limited schedule and still be dominant. Her winning percentage of 44% on tour is staggering and tops in golf. Vijay Singh may have won nine times, but it took him 29 starts to do it for a pedestrian 31% winning percentage.
 
Sorenstam is still the most dominant player in the sport. She has the aura about her that Woods had in 2000. When she is in a tournament, every other player teeing it up knows Annika is the player to beat. She's in the best shape on tour and works hard on her game. Sorenstam has the off-season to relax and playing a lighter schedule means she has more time to charge her batteries.
 
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
In 2003, the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year was Lorena Ochoa. She mowed through the PAC-10 at the University of Arizona then came on tour and moved to the top of the class.
 
This year was a little different. No player stuck out, but the nod here goes to Shi Hyun Ahn, a 20-year-old Korean, who actually won an event in 2003, the CJ Nine Bridges. That win got her an LPGA Tour card and she made the most of it.
 
Ahn opened with back-to-back ties for fifth place to start the season, then finished alone in second behind Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship. Ahn missed two cuts in a row from the Women's British Open, but collected three consecutive top-11 finishes, including another runner-up, this time at the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic.
 
Ahn finished 16th on the final money list, which was good enough to outlast Aree Song for Rookie of the Year honors.
 
FALLEN DOWN THE PAK
Se Ri Pak for the last three seasons has been the toughest threat for Annika Sorenstam's stranglehold atop women's golf. That abruptly screeched to a halt in 2004.
 
From 2001-2003, Pak collected 13 wins and finished second on the money list all three years, amassing close to $5 million in earnings.
 
This year was a disaster in comparison.
 
Pak won once, the Michelob Ultra Open, finished in the top-10 five times and missed three cuts. She slipped to 11th on the 2004 money list and stopped playing competitively.
 
The common theory is that Pak is wiped out and needs time to rest. She will have plenty of time for that now, but Pak better worry about keeping her ball on the fairway (156th in driving accuracy), or she will continue to slide down the money list.
 
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
With due respect to the LPGA Takefuji Classic and its seven-hole playoff that became a marathon due more to mediocre golf between Cristie Kerr and Seol An Jeon, the finish at the U.S. Women's Open was a spectacle in itself.
 
Jenny Rosales, a rail-thin, chain-smoking 20-something, had a three-shot lead heading into the final round. This would have been her first major championship and vaulted her into a top tier golfer.
 
Meg Mallon, who was born a few hours away from Orchards Golf Club, is in her mid-40s, does not have the traditional athlete's physique and seemed to heading into the twilight of her career.
 
Something strange happened on that Sunday afternoon in Massachusetts.
 
Mallon started holing every putt she looked at. She finished the round with 10 one-putts, Mallon made a pair of 20-foot birdie putts in the final round. She rolled in tap-ins and even stroked home a par-saver from the fringe at 17.
 
Mallon won the following week and picked up win No. 3 of the season a few weeks later. Had it not been for Sorenstam, Mallon would certainly be the Player of the Year, but winning the tournament of the year is a good consolation.
 
GOOD YEAR
Cristie Kerr won three titles and lost in a playoff in the season-ending event, the ADT Championship. Kerr took fifth on the money list and finally turned into the elite player many thought she should have been before 2004.
 
Grace Park came in second on the money list and earned her first major at the Nabisco Championship. Despite the strong season, developing a reputation for a bad closer with seven second-places, but 12 top-fives is too impressive to overlook.
 
Christina Kim is one of the most exciting players in the world. Galleries love her go-for-broke attitude and she responded with a phenomenal run in the early fall. She took second at the State Farm Classic and a few weeks later, recorded her first win on tour at the Longs Drugs Challenge.
 
BAD YEAR
Juli Inkster failed to win a tournament for the first time since 1996. She tallied seven top-10s, but fell off her perch as top American woman, yielding to both Mallon and Kerr.
 
Candie Kung won three times in 2003. She won zero times in 2004. Kung finished sixth on the LPGA Tour money list in 2003. She finished 17th in 2004. Kung was third in birdies in 2003 with 357. She finished fourth with 372 in 2004. All was not lost.
 
Rosales won for the first time on tour at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, then looked destined to win the U.S. Women's Open. She imploded on Sunday and Mallon won the title. Rosales only posted two top-10s the rest of the way.
 
Related Links:
  • The Year in Review