A Year to Remember
Sorenstam began making headlines even before the LPGA began its season with her announcement that she would become the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour at the Bank of America Colonial in May.
By the time the event took place in late May, Meg Mallon had already had a chance to shoot 59, Frances Patricia Meunier-Lebouc had won her first career major after outdueling Sorenstam at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Candie Kung had won the first of three titles in what would become a breakout season.
Sorenstams foray into the mens professional golf realm was well-documented by media around the world, creating an unprecedented buzz around the LPGA that carried through to the seasons final two weeks ago.
Six other women also competed against the men in the professional ranks in 2003: Suzy Whaley; Michelle Wie; Jan Stephenson; Laura Davies; Se Ri Pak; and Sophie Gustafson.
By years end, Sorenstam had put together yet another stellar season that included her sixth career Rolex Player of the Year award, completion of the LPGA Career Grand Slam and entrance into the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. She thrust the LPGA into the national spotlight like never before and led the way in what evolved into arguably the LPGAs most publicized and successful year ever.
Sorenstam finished the season with six wins, 15 top-10 finishes, a season-best $2,029,506 in earnings, two major championship titles (McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG, Weetabix Womens British Open) and the title of LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member.
Sorenstams win at the Weetabix Womens British Open made her just the sixth LPGA player to achieve the LPGA Career Grand Slam, and her win at the Mizuno Classic was her third straight at that event. But Sorenstam wasnt the only player to shine in 2003 and wasnt the only storyline that emerged.
An Open to Remember
Who would have thought a struggling player looking for her first top-10 finish of the season would join a third-year player coming off her first career victory and an established veteran to make the U.S. Womens Open one of the most memorable in the events 58-year history?
Thats just what Hilary Lunke, Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins did at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., in early July. The trio finished 72 holes in a three-way knot after Stanford made a clutch birdie putt on the final hole of regulation.
One day and 18 holes later, Lunke dazzled a national television audience when she trumped yet another 18th-hole Stanford birdie putt with one of her own to become the 14th player in LPGA history to make the U.S. Womens Open her first career victory and the first player to emerge a champion through the sectional Open qualifying system. It was a U.S. Womens Open for the record books and one that will not soon be forgotten.
Koreas Pak had another impressive season, winning three times, taking home her first career Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, finishing second on the ADT Official Money List and inching to within one point of the 27 needed to qualify for the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. Pak now has 21 career titles heading into the 2004 season.
Mexicos Lorena Ochoa came out of the gates in her rookie year by making 16 consecutive cuts and leaving little doubt as to who would take home the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award.
She went on to record eight top-10 finishes, including a pair of runner-up finishes, missed just one cut all season and ran away with the top rookie honors. Ochoa didnt fare too poorly against the rest of the Tour either, finishing ninth on the ADT Official Money List with more than $800,000 in earnings. Few doubt if she will win on the LPGA Tour; when and how many times are the only questions.
Europeans Take Back Solheim Cup
Sweden was the site for the eighth staging of The Solheim Cup, Sept. 12-14, and the European team, inspired by a hobbling captain, Catrin Nilsmark, wrestled the Cup back from the U.S. squad with a 17 1/2-10 1/2 victory. Top-notch play from nearly every player on the European team helped close the gap in the U.S. teams all-time lead in the event to 5-3.
40 and Fine
The leaderboards were jammed all season long with names of players past the age of 40 who made their presence felt on a weekly basis. LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame members Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster led the charge.
Daniel won the BMO Financial Group Canadian Womens Open in July (one shot ahead of Inkster) to become the LPGAs oldest tournament winner at 46 years, 8 months and 29 days. Inkster (43) won twice: LPGA Corning Classic, where she tied the LPGAs record for lowest final round with a 62; and the Evian Masters, her 30th career title.
Inkster finished the season fifth on the ADT Official Money List with more than $1 million in earnings, while Daniel finished eighth. Mallon (40) carded the only 60 in LPGA history at the season-opening Welchs/Frys Championship and finished the season with a one-stroke victory over Sorenstam at the ADT Championship. Mallon recorded eight top-10 finishes and finished 12th on the final ADT Official Money List.
In addition, 44-year-old Rosie Jones finished 10th on the money list thanks to nine top-10 finishes, including a win at the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship at Mount Vintage in May.
Koreas Grace Park had a career year that included her fourth LPGA title at the Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill in May, a career-best $1,417,702 in earnings that was good enough for third on the final money list and 19 top-10 finishes.
Park finished the season with 46 rounds in the 60s, which tied Kelly Robbins LPGA record set in 1997, and 403 birdies, marking just the second time in LPGA history that a player eclipsed the 400-birdie mark in a single season (Maria Hjorth, 408 in 1999).
Amazingly, Parks season could have been even better, as she nearly earned her first major championship title at the McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG, where she lost to Sorenstam in a sudden-death playoff, and she finished .08 points behind Pak in the race for the Vare Trophy.
The aforementioned Kung, who became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the LPGA Takefuji Classic in April, had a record-setting season of her own.
She finished with three wins after back-to-back triumphs at the Wachovia LPGA Classic hosted by Betsy King and the State Farm Classic in August, more than $900,000 in earnings to finish sixth overall and eight top-10 finishes. In just two seasons on the LPGA Tour and at the tender age of 22, Kung has amassed 13 top-10 finishes and more than $1 million in earnings.
Koreas Hee-Won Han, the 2001 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, also became a Rolex First-Time Winner after winning Julys Sybase Big Apple Classic presented by Lincoln Mercury. She would win again at the Wendys Championship for Children at Tartan Fields over Wendy Ward in a thrilling three-hole, sudden-death playoff in August and finished the season with 11 top-10 finishes.
Han finished fourth on the money list with $1,111,860 in earnings, marking the first time she had eclipsed the $1 million mark in single-season earnings. Her breakout year bordered on the colossal, as she also recorded three second-place finishes.
In addition to competing in a pair of mens professional events, Wie, now 14, took on the LPGA Tour seven times in 2003 and won headlines and legions of fans with her smile and 300-yard drives.
Wie burst onto the scene by tying for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March after a third-round 66, and then went on to make the cut in five of her next six LPGA tournaments. She was one who shared national headlines and television exposure with Sorenstam and can be expected to be seen on fairways for years to come.
Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.
The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.
The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.
This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.
After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”
Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.
Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.
“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”
Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.
To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.
“More punishment,” he said.
DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.
Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.
Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.
Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.
It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.
With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.
Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.
TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:
• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.
• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.
• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery.
• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”
• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.
• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.
• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.