Big Test for Beatable Sorenstam

By Associated PressJune 25, 2006, 4:00 pm
USGAAnnika Sorenstam has gone from the slam to the slump.
She was on the fast track to the Grand Slam last year after winning the first two majors by a combined 11 shots, leading over the final 54 holes in each of them. Her victims were a 45-year-old easing into retirement (Rosie Jones) and a 15-year-old who still had two years left in high school (Michelle Wie).
The Swede looked unstoppable until running into her toughest opponent: The U.S. Women's Open.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has only one victory this season -- her first start of the year.
One year later, the showcase event in women's golf stands in the way of a different goal for Sorenstam, who is trying to diffuse talk about her being in a slump.
''I don't use that word myself,'' Sorenstam said. ''I'm one of the few players that won this year, so in a way, I take it as a compliment because I have set the standard very high. It might not sound like the greatest season so far, but I have not played half of the tournaments yet. Let's just see how the season turns out.''
The U.S. Women's Open begins Thursday at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, a founding member of the USGA that held the first two majors in this country -- the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open, one day apart in 1895 -- and did not host another big event until Tiger Woods won his second U.S. Amateur in 1995.
It is the main event on the LPGA Tour, offering $560,000 to the winner.
''There's just something different about the U.S. Open that makes it that much more important to just about anyone that plays it,'' two-time Open champion Karrie Webb said. ''It's going to be a really tough challenge. I'm preparing now for that to be a really long, tiring week, and telling myself now to be patient.''
Sorenstam has no choice but to preach patience, hopeful her game will turn around.
She won her 2006 debut on the LPGA Tour at a 54-hole event in Mexico, but that remains her only victory this year. She is No. 6 on the money list, but everyone is used to seeing her name at the top. And while Sorenstam has finished in the top 10 at both majors, she was never seriously a factor in either.
She is not hitting as many fairways. She is not making enough putts. She can't seem to put three or four good rounds together.
''It just goes a little bit up and down at the moment,'' she said. ''I just keep on going because I know what I'm capable of. I've hit a little plateau at the moment, and I'm trying to find a way to get to the next step and keep on cruising, the way I did a few years ago.''
She comes into the U.S. Women's Open having taken two weeks off to clear her mind. She is still atop the women's world ranking by a large margin, and no one doubts her skill.
But history is not on her side at this championship -- not any more.
Ten years ago, Sorenstam was so dominant in the U.S. Women's Open that she missed only five fairways all week at Pine Needles and won by six shots, setting a tournament record at 272. It was her second straight Open title, and many more were sure to follow.
Now, that's about the only major she can't seem to win.
Going for the third leg of the Grand Slam last year at Cherry Hills, she let nerves get the best of her in the first round, then fell apart on the weekend with a four-putt double bogey on Saturday and a 77 on Sunday.
She needed a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to win at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003 and had only a 4-wood left to the green. But she hit it behind a portable toilet, hit wedge into the bunker and made bogey to finish one shot out of the playoff. The year before, at Prairie Dunes, she led by two shots going into the final round and lost to Juli Inkster.
''It's really the No. 1 major ... and the U.S. Open always means a lot to me,'' Sorenstam said. ''I haven't won it in a while, and I've had the chance a few times. I've been very, very close, so I'm looking forward to it. Like I said, I'm just wanting my game to turn around, and it will be a lot more fun.''
The U.S. Women's Open is not meant to be fun. It was a matter of survival last year at Cherry Hills, a test so demanding that only one player broke par in the final round and seven players didn't break 80. Birdie Kim won by holing a 30-yard bunker shot on the last hole to finish at 3-over 287.
Newport figures to be just as stern. It is a links-style course off Newport Harbor and can stretch to 6,616 yards. It features deep grass off the fairway and wind that makes the course play even longer.
Wie had to rely on another sponsor's exemption after a final-round collapse last year sent her into a tie for 23rd. Playing her first Women's Open as a pro, she appears to be closing in on her first victory since 2003. She had birdie putts on the final hole of this year's first two majors that would have put her in a playoff, missing from 10 feet at the Kraft Nabisco and from 50 feet at the LPGA Championship.
In between, she made the cut against the men on the Asian Tour and tried to qualify for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. But her putting needs vast improvement, along with her wedge play.
''I was counting too much on the last moment, and I know what I have to work on for the next two weeks,'' Wie said after the LPGA Championship. ''I'm really excited for the U.S. Open.''
Sorenstam has gone only three months without a victory, so a win at the U.S. Women's Open hardly would feel like a renaissance in her career. Considering how long it's been since she won the Open, though, it might feel like one.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Women's Open
  • Getty Images

    Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

    Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

    European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

    Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

    Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

    Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

    Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

    Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

    Getty Images

    Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

    By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

    Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

    Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

    ''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

    The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

    ''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

    Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.

    Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

    ''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

    Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

    ''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

    The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

    ''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

    The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

    Getty Images

    After Further Review: American success stories

    By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

    Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

    After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

    Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

    It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray

    On the resurgence of American women  ...

    American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

    The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

    Getty Images

    In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

    By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

    Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.




    Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

    “I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

    Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

    It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

    “I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

    “I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

    Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

    “Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

    Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.

    Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

    “I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

    Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

    This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

    Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

    Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

    Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

    Kang did.

    “Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

    Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

    “I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

    “More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”