Annika Sorenstam has made a habit of punching peoples noses (figuratively, of course) for the better part of 10 years now. Remember, she has won 69 times of the LPGA Tour alone, 14 more around the world. Thats meting out an awfully lot of punishment to the golfing women of this world.
But maybe some of them have finally gotten tired of being beaten silly. A few of them have finally said enough to the unending procession of the Ice Queens 11-win, 10-win, eight-win seasons. Cristie Kerrs victory Sunday in Tulsa notified the world that she is officially tired of being kicked around, and shes going to try to do something about it.
Kerr went toe-to-toe, hand-to-hand, jawbone-to-jawbone with Annika Sunday. Annika had opened the tournament with a 64 Friday, which normally would be enough to scare the bejabbers out of any living opponent. But Kerr came back Saturday with a pretty impressive score of her own, putting up a 61 and taking a one-shot lead going into the final round.
Sunday, Sorenstam was her usual gritty, determined self on the front nine, erecting a one-shot lead that she stretched to two shots after a birdie at No. 10. But then something unusual happened, something you never see happen to a PGA TOUR player who has been passed on Sunday by Tiger Woods.
This time, Kerr got just as gritty as Sorenstam. This time, Kerr rallied with four birdies of her own on the back nine. And this time, Kerr won by two shots.
We're all becoming a lot more competitive with her, said Kerr, because we're getting better. I think people are starting to realize, Hey, you know what - we don't have to play under pressure, we don't have to give it away and give it to her just because she is the best player in the world.
Let her stand up for herself and play great golf and see what kind of a match you can make out of it. I think everybody has really gotten more competitive.
Annika wasnt about to make it easy. She hit every fairway Sunday in her attempt to win the 70th time on tour. She did nothing wrong the back nine. She was just out-putted and outplayed.
And Annika, being the classy individual that she has always been, had nothing but praise for Kerr. 'All the credit goes to Cristie,' she said. 'That (Kerr's performance) is extraordinary on a Sunday on a course that could hold a major.
'I've been saying the competition is getting tougher out there. The players are getting better. Just look at the stats.'
The PGA TOUR would do well to take notice. So many times when Tiger has suddenly reared up on the final day and bared his teeth, the opposition has shriveled. Not saying that the men have suddenly gone into hiding ' maybe they try TOO hard when Tiger is running alongside them. But whatever the reason, they dont get the job done.
And normally, its the same with Annika. But maybe Kerr and Company are getting tired of continually being the punching bags.
Kerr herself at one time was the bully of the neighborhood. As a junior player, she won everything. She chose to forego college, immediately going from high school in Miami to the LPGA.
And just like being doused with ice water, she had to learn her lesson ' its a far, far cry from being the queen of the hill in juniors to being top dog on the LPGA. And her LPGA career has been one huge picture of looking at Annika from the rear.
But while she has deep respect ' as does everyone ' for all that Sorenstam has accomplished, she says that she is not intimidated.
It's something that I've grown out of, said Kerr. I've realized the dynamic of people playing golf and all that stuff. It's been a really long time since I've been intimidated.
But that comes with age, it comes with winning tournaments, it comes with having success, it comes with believing in yourself - all those different things at once.
For the record, Sorenstam is still Sorenstam. She recorded 12 under par for the tournament last week, and that is still the best mark that has ever been posted. Oh ' except for one person ' Cristie Kerr.
I didn't make any mistakes, said Annika. When I walk away from here, I think I've got to give myself credit for that. I didn't really give away any shots. Maybe I could have made a few more, but it's all about mistakes, too, and I didn't make many.
And Kerr has been punched in the chops by Annika often enough that she no longer has any feeling. In short, she now just plays golf ' and apparently has done it fairly well.
I don't put pressure on myself to have to do this, she said. I just play golf and try to compete again.
The men of the PGA TOUR will have to finally learn this, or they will be pushed around by Tiger until he is too feeble to swing a club. The women may finally have gotten it ' at least Kerr seems to have.
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