CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Her dream of a Grand Slam having dissipated in the mile-high air, Annika Sorenstam stuck around Cherry Hills long enough to watch the final act of a U.S. Womens Open that kept everyone in suspense to the very end.
Ultimately, the biggest surprise was Sorenstam being reduced to the role of spectator.
So dominant in winning the first two majors by a combined 11 shots, Sorenstam was under par for only two of the 72 holes she played at the U.S. Womens Open. No one worried about her over the weekend because Sorenstam never got any closer than five shots from the lead.
Sorenstam wound up in a tie for 23rd, nine shots behind Birdie Kim. It was her lowest finish in 52 tournaments, dating to a missed cut in the 2002 Womens British Open.
It was a tough week, a tough championship, Sorenstam said. But you always learn something. Im sure I will look back at this week and bring something good out of it.
What she likely will find is an opportunity that might not get any easier.
She is still miles ahead of everyone else on the LPGA Tour, but competition that has been lacking the last two years might be coming sooner than anyone realizes.
Teenagers were all the rage at Cherry Hills, and four of them'Morgan Pressel (17), Brittany Lang (19), Michelle Wie (15) and Paula Creamer (18) -- had a share of the lead at some point during the Womens Open.
Sorenstam gave Pressel a hearty hug after the feisty Floridian had the Open snatched away by Kims spectacular bunker shot that dropped for birdie on the 72nd hole. She told Pressel she played great and to keep her spirits up because there would be many more chances.
If we can keep playing well ... its just going to be tougher to win, Pressel said. I dont know if you will see anybody dominate like Annika. Theres going to be so many players that are really, really good at a young age.
The Grand Slam is tough enough as it is, proven by the fact Sorenstam was only the sixth player to get halfway home since Arnold Palmer reinvented golfs Holy Grail in 1960.
Of those six players, Sorenstam and Tiger Woods are the only players who failed to finish in the top 10 while going for the third leg of the slam. Woods tied for 28th in the 2002 British Open.
To win the slam, you have to be able to control yourself, Palmer said last week. Then are outside factors you have no control over, that people dont think about. Youve just got to hope they work out for you.
They didnt for Woods. He was two shots out of the lead going into the third round at Muirfield when nasty weather rolled in and sent him to an 81, his worst score as a professional.
The biggest competition Sorenstam faced at Cherry Hills was herself.
For someone who has won 62 times and nine majors, and faced the enormous pressure of being the first woman to compete on the PGA Tour in 58 years at the 2003 Colonial, she felt jangled nerves before hitting her first shot.
And while Sorenstam wont second-guess herself, her strategy raises some questions.
She looked like she was trying to steer her way around this U.S. Open, drawing up a game plan and sticking to it no matter the circumstances.
I didnt feel like she played aggressive enough those first two rounds and today she was really having to chop out of the rough a lot, said Rosie Jones, paired with Sorenstam the first two rounds and the last one. I dont know if this course is really set up for her. She didnt seem comfortable on it.
Laura Davies thought it was right up Sorenstams alley because of her length and accuracy. She chose iron off the tee on the 539-yard fifth hole, fearing it was too tight in the landing area.
Some of these fairways are like hitting into a thimble, said her caddie, Terry McNamara.
Stranger still, Sorenstam figured 4-over-par would be enough to win'she was off by one incredible shot'but shifted gears from conservative to go-for-broke in the final round.
It started with a driver on the opening hole, just like Palmer when he charged from behind to win the 1960 U.S. Open. But she had no chance to reach the green, and instead went into a hazard and made bogey.
Its tough to speculate, Sorenstam said when asked if she was too aggressive on Sunday. I had a game plan. I am not going to second-guess myself. Normally, when I come up with a plan, it works. Im going to leave it at that.
It was the third time Sorenstam stumbled while trying to make history.
She was trying to become the first woman to win three straight U.S. Womens Open titles in 1997 at Pumpkin Ridge and missed the cut. Last month, she had a chance to win a record six straight LPGA Tour events in Kingsmill, was never a factor and finished out of the top 10.
The Grand Slam was her chief goal this year, but one bad week doesnt mean there is nothing left.
Sorenstam has always wanted to win 10 majors, and her next chance is in five weeks at Royal Birkdale. She can still go after Mickey Wrights record of 13 victories in a year.
But the Grand Slam will have to wait nine more months, when she steps to the plate at the Kraft Nabisco Championship next March. It probably wont be any easier the next time around.
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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum
SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.
Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.
''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.
Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.
''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''
Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.
Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.
Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.
He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.
''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''
Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.
''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''
Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.
Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.
But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.
''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''
LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1
LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.
Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.
Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.
Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.
''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''
That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.
''Too many,'' Park said.
The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.
''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''
The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.
Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.
Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.
Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.
''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''
Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.
She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.
''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''
ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.
Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.
The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.
Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.
Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero
Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."
The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.
"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."
Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.
With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.
"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."
Three years later, PXG launches new iron
Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.
“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”
PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.
The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.
Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.