Annika No Longer a Certainty

By Mercer BaggsMarch 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
There are a few certainties in golf.
 
A few examples: 1) No one at NBC will ever ' ever ' disagree with Johnny Miller on air (play a drinking game in which you take a shot every time Gary Koch or Roger Maltbie says, Yeah, Johnny, youre right. Youll be schnockered within 20 minutes); 2) If I say that you will win, you will most likely lose; 3) Annika Sorenstam will roll right off the couch and into the winners circle.
 
Well at least 1 and 2 still hold true.
 
Annika Sorenstam and Meaghan Francella
Annika Sorenstam is now 15-6 in her LPGA career in playoffs. (Getty Images)
Bidding to win her first start for the fourth consecutive season, Sorenstam fell in a playoff at the MasterCard Classic to Meaghan Francella.
 
To say the result was surprising is to say that the 2008 Presidential race will get personal ' both are vast understatements.
 
Sorenstam has 69 LPGA Tour wins; Francella has six LPGA Tour starts. Sorenstam has 10 majors; Francella had one top-35 finish before this week. Sorenstam is arguably the greatest female player ever; Francella is honestly, up until this week I had no idea who Meaghan Francella was.
 
I thought this was March Madness time? Sixteen seeds dont beat No. 1s.
 
Ironically, it was a year ago on this very same day (March 12) that I wrote a column about Sorenstam winning in her season debut in Mexico (coincidentally, Francella won her first professional event on the Duramed FUTURES Tour on March 12, 2006).
 
I was gushing over Annika's performance. I believed her to be unbeatable. Even though common sense told me there was no way that she could win every single time she teed it up, I felt it possible.
 
Obviously, Im a little less enthusiastic a year later. Yet Im far more intrigued to see where the road will take her.
 
Even without much of an effort, Annika can win three times and even a major each season. She proved that last year.
 
After opening with her win South of the Border, she captured only two more titles (though, one was the U.S. Womens Open), falling victim to certainty No. 2.
 
I like to think, however, that the decline in production wasnt as much my doing as it was hers. Sorenstam has admitted that she lacked full desire last year. She didnt have the drive that she had in previous seasons.
 
She was focused on her personal life and her personal interests, like her new golf and fitness academy outside of Orlando.
 
Those things still seem to weigh heavy on Annikas mind. In her pre-tournament press conference this past week, Annika said, As long I enjoy the competition and as long as I feel motivated and wake up in the morning excited to go practice, I will continue to play. Im not really sure how long that will be. I do have other interests off the golf course that I've been pursuing more and more.
 
She added that she plans to play around 15 or 16 times this year. Shes never played fewer than 17 LPGA events since joining the tour in 1994, and competed in 20 tournaments each of the last two seasons.
 
Motivation, it would seem, is the key to Annikas ultimate success, the difference between a ho-hum ' by her standards anyway ' 3-win, 1-major season and one in which she wins about half of her starts, multiple majors, and a bevy of awards.
 
And motivation, it would seem, is still a bit of a question mark.
 
Right now, Annika herself is a bit of a question mark.
 
This seems like a different Annika than the one weve come to know. There isnt nearly as much talk about her accomplishing a seasonal Grand Slam. There is more talk surrounding other players. And even Annika is talking like an underdog.
 
When asked if she considered herself the favorite after a first-round 69 left her two off the lead, Sorenstam deferred to another.
 
I'm not really sure I'm the favorite, said Sorenstam, the only winner the tournament had ever known until Monday. I would think Lorena would be.
 
Lorena, of course, is Lorena Ochoa, the reigning Player of the Year and sporting icon in her native Mexico.
 
It almost seems unnatural that Annika would consider someone other than herself the player to beat, particularly when that player was two shots higher than she after the first round. Perhaps she was paying respect to Ochoa based on her accomplishments of a year ago. Perhaps she was just taking a little pressure off herself for once. Or, perhaps shes really a Jedi and she was playing mind tricks.
 
I figured it was the latter; so much so that I began writing my column assuming Annika would win. Oops certainty No. 2 rears up its ugly little head once again.
 
Having begun the weather-delayed final round three in arrears, Sorenstam shot 6-under 66 Monday to catch Francella and force a playoff. They then tied each of the first three holes of sudden death before Francella won on the fourth extra hole with a 4-foot birdie.
 
'Words can't describe how I feel right now,' Francella said afterwards.
 
'Today I got beaten, but I gave it a good run,' said Sorenstam. 'I felt really good about my game, so that's what I'm going to take out of this tournament.'
 
The most intriguing thing in all of this is how will Sorenstam respond? Will this just make her angry, more focused? Is this a good kick in the butt for her?
 
Or is it a kick in the teeth? Will this just deflate her? Will it sour her on competing even more?
 
A year ago, I wouldnt have thought the latter line of questioning fathomable. Now Im not so sure.
 
But, perhaps thats a good thing for Annika. It doesnt help her cause to have me thinking that she is going to win. That is a certainty.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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    Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

    NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Royal Birkdale, broken down into daily segments:

    Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

    Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

    1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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    Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

    Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

    The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

    “Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

    Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

    But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

    Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

    “It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

    There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

    It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

    “It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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    Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

    According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

    Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

    Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

    Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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    Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

    Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

    Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

    “I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

    Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

    “Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

    Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

    On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

    “These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

    Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

    More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

    Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

    Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

    “He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

    Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

    He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.