Sorenstam Named AP Female Athlete of Year
Sorenstam started the year just like any other, focusing on the major championships. That turned out to be only one part of a grandiose year.
'If someone had told me I would win two, I would have been very happy,' Sorenstam said. 'Little did I know about everything else.'
Two majors, the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open, gave her the career Grand Slam. Two rounds at the Colonial, where Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour, made her one of the most famous athletes in the world.
Along the way, she led Europe to victory at the Solheim Cup played for the first time in her native Sweden, and was the 100th person inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
'She probably was deserving in other years, like in 2002 when she won 13 times,' LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said. 'The amazing thing about Annika is she found ways to improve herself, maybe not in number of wins or amount of money, but in things that mattered to her - stretching herself to the PGA Tour level of competition.'
Sorenstam received 47 first-place votes and 249 points in voting by AP member newspapers and broadcast outlets. Taurasi, the player of the year who led UConn to the national title, got six first-place votes and 102 points.
Justin Henin-Hardenne, who won the French Open and U.S. Open and finished the year at No. 1, finished third with 44 points. She was followed by soccer star Mia Hamm (31 points) and Julie Krone (11 points), the first female jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race.
Sorenstam became the first golfer to win the award since Se Ri Pak, who won two majors as a rookie in 1998.
'It's quite an honor and very exciting,' Sorenstam said.
Sorenstam set the stage for a remarkable year before she played in her first official event. She met with reporters in Orlando, Fla., when one of them asked if she would ever try to qualify for a PGA Tour event.
'I haven't thought about qualifying, but if I got an invite, I would say yes in a heartbeat,' she said in January.
The invitations poured in, and Sorenstam settled on the Colonial. She became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Los Angeles Open to tee it up against the men.
The pressure was enormous. There were more than 1,500 print articles in the three months leading up to the Colonial, and Sorenstam appeared on everything from the 'Today' show to the 'Tonight Show.'
Tiger Woods was worried she could bring down the LPGA Tour if she played poorly. Vijay Singh was among the harshest critics, saying, 'I hope she misses the cut,' because she didn't belong on the PGA Tour.
The 33-year-old Swede had no idea what awaited her until the Monday she arrived at the airport and wanted to go straight to Colonial Country Club to practice.
'My caddie, Terry (McNamara), called and said, `You can't come here. There's 200 reporters at the front,'' she said. 'I laid down in the back of a minivan and drove to the back of the range so nobody could see me. Those are things you think of at Hollywood.'
No other golfer ever faced more scrutiny over a single shot.
The 10th fairway was packed with fans on both sides, and people crowded onto the balcony of the clubhouse. The cheer was deafening when her name was announced, and even louder when her 4-wood landed in the fairway.
'How I got the club back, I have no idea,' Sorenstam.
She transformed the pressure into energy, smiling and waving to the crowd at every turn. Sorenstam putted for birdie on every hole and finished with a 71. The next day, she shot 74 and missed the cut by five shots.
'I wish I could have made the cut,' Sorenstam said. 'But I got out of it what I wanted.'
She wanted to test herself in the most severe conditions, with hopes of becoming a stronger player in the LPGA major championships.
Two weeks later, Sorenstam won the LPGA Championship in a playoff over Grace Park, then completed the Grand Slam at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in July with a perfect tee shot on the final hole. She finished second and fourth in the other two majors.
Sorenstam finished the year with six victories and more than $2 million.
She said she would never play another PGA event, although she competed twice more against the men in Skins games, and showed that Colonial was no fluke.
Sorenstam shot 63 and finished second behind Retief Goosen at the Tiger Skins in Singapore, than won $225,000 and finished second behind Fred Couples - and ahead of Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara - in the Skins Game in California over Thanksgiving weekend.
'Every athlete should strive to do better than they ever did before,' Votaw said. 'A lot of people were asking in '02 how she could top this year, and she did it. Next year, she wants to win all four majors. If she does that, will there be anyone who really doubted her?'
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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back
CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.
A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.
The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.
Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.
Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.
Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement
AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.
Just like that other tournament, right?
Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.
But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.
After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.
Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.
“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”
The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.
It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.
“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”
His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.
Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.
Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.
“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”
But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.
While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.
“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”
But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.
Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.
Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.
Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title
BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.
Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.
Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.
The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.
First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).
Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson
AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.
In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.
“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”
Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.
After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”