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Next On the Tee

We all know Annika Sorenstam will play against the men at The Bank of America Colonial late next month. What we dont know is who will she play with, what will her tee times be and who will determine as much.
Well, actually we do know a little bit. Sorenstam will play a practice round with David Duval. And she will enter the tournament as a Category Three player, which means, as a sponsors exemption, she can only play on Thursday and Friday with other players in on a sponsors exemption or players qualifying under the past champion category.
As of Tuesday, tournament director Dennis Roberson had only filled seven of his 12 sponsors exemption slots. Those other six include some interesting names: Former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and fellow Swede Per-Ulrik Johansson are on that list. On the past champions list is 60-year-old Rod Curl, who won at Colonial way back in 1974.
Typically, Category Three players do not get the best tee times. On the average, according to tour figures, a Category Three player at the Bank of America Colonial will get a 9 a.m. tee time one day and a 2 p.m. tee time the next. A computer will spit out the exact times and pairings and they wont be released until noon two days before the tournament begins.
The Magic Number
Speaking of Annika, when does a players career peak? You can make a strong case for 32.
Going into this years Masters, the average age for past winners was 32 and change. Mike Weir, the winner is 32. It was his third victory already this year. Sorenstam won 13 times worldwide last year, the year in which she turned 32.
Jack Nicklaus won seven times, including a U.S. Open and a Masters, in the year in which he turned 32. Arnold Palmer won eight tournaments, including a Masters, when he was 32.
Cant wait to see what Tiger Woods does when hes 32. Meanwhile, if youre looking for a Comeback Player of the Year winner in 2004, try Duval. He will be 32 for most of the 2004 season.
More to go Around
Finally Gary Planos, the tournament chairman of the Mercedes Championship, is well aware that only nine players have qualified for his event early next year. Thats because four players'Weir, Woods, Ernie Els and Davis Love III'have won 11 of the 16 tournaments completed to date.
Last January the field at Planos tournament swelled to 36 players. Rich Beem, who finished dead last, cashed a check for $51,000.
Next year the total purse at the Mercedes will grow from $5 million to $5.3 million. If Weir, Woods, Love and Els continue to dominate, the field could be less than 30 and last place could approach $100,000.
Whatever happens, Planos will be happy. We liked making 18 new friends, he said of the field in January that included 18 first-time players. But were looking forward to having Mike Weir and Davis Love back. Neither won a tournament in 2002.