Annika One for All Time

By Mercer BaggsMarch 27, 2005, 5:00 pm
It's about 3:00 p.m. on the eastern coast. The ladies are playing a major out west. It's only Saturday, and there is still a round and a half to play. Annika Sorenstam has a four-shot lead.

Take all of this information and factor it into an equation; the output equals: get started writing.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam rules the LPGA Tour winner's circle with an iron fist.
Why waste time waiting until it's over? A column has to fill this space come Sunday evening. And with a whole bunch of nothing happening over in Ponte Vedra Beach; theres only one thing ' one person ' to talk about: Annika Sorenstam.
Sorenstam really hasnt been talked about that much this season. For one reason, much of the media and public attention has focused on the great happenings (weather malfunctions not withstanding) transpiring on the PGA Tour.
And for another, the LPGA season didnt begin until nearly March.
But now its time to shine a serious spotlight on a lady who shined blindingly since the calendar turned 2000.
About five hours after initially looking at the Kraft Nabisco Championship leaderboard and seeing that Sorenstam had distanced herself rather comfortably from 36-hole co-leader Rosie Jones, I took another peek to see that the advantage was finalized at five.
And so Saturday night I began to pick up at home where my writings had left off at work ' until NCAA basketball and procrastination consumed me.
And so Sunday afternoon I began to pick up at work where my writings had left off at home.
Ive gambled enough in my life to know that Ill never win as much as I'll lose. But I was willing to wager said house on a Sorenstam victory.
Sometimes she makes it interesting. Shes like Muhammad Ali when he fought Ernie Terrell and Floyd Patterson. She almost carries her opponents along until she wants to knock them out at her own leisure.
But she always ' almost always ' seems to win. And this time she won by eight, birdying three of her first five holes at Mission Hills Country Club to make it an early TKO.
It really didn't matter who her closest opposition was. Not Rosie Jones, nor Cristie Kerr, nor Michelle Wie, nor Grace Park was going to make up that many shots on Sorenstam.
Sure she blew a three-stroke lead to Wendy Doolan at last years Evian Masters. But this lead was five. And this was a major. And this might be the best that Annikas ever played.
And the best that Annikas ever played might be the best that anyone has ever played on the LPGA Tour ' ever.
It might not have mattered if Nancy Lopez or Kathy Whitworth or Mickey Wright or any other legend in her prime was playing in the final threesome with Annika this Sunday.
Her nickname should be All Time ' Annika All Time Sorenstam. Because everything she does is either the best or comparable to the best of all time.
When it all comes clear at the end of her career, Sorenstam may not own all of the tours prominent records. She may not eclipse Whitworths mark of 88 victories. But whatever she ultimately accomplishes will have come during the most competitive time ' from top to bottom ' in tour history.
'We may be witnessing the best player in the history of women's golf,' said fellow Hall of Fame member Judy Rankin, who has just about seen 'em all, at the end of Sunday's telecast.
Annika has 59 tour wins in her career ' 36 in a shade over four seasons ' for fourth on the all-time list. Shes been named player of the year seven times, tying Whitworth for the all-time mark. Shes topped the money list seven times, one shy of Whitworths all-time record. She has won the Vare Trophy for lowest seasonal scoring average five times ' and would have tied Whitworths all-time record of seven had she competed in the requisite 70 rounds each of the last two seasons.
Her scoring averages over the last four years are the four lowest in tour history. She holds outright the all-time records for score in relation to par over 18, 36, 54 and 72 holes.
She now has eight major titles to her credit, tying her for fifth all-time. And ' most importantly to her at the moment, she still has a shot at becoming the first female to complete the seasonal Grand Slam.
Now, eventually she has to lose.
Joseph Stalin said (Stalin and Sorenstam?): History shows that there are no invincible armies. Annika is unquestionably the best of her era, and arguably the best of any era.
But eventually she has to lose. Or quit.
Right now her winning streak has reached five consecutive tournaments, tying the all-time record set by Nancy Lopez. Lopez accomplished this feat in her rookie season of 1978. Sorenstam won her final two starts in 2004 and her first three in '05. That makes it all-the-more impressive in favor of Annika. There was a three-and-a-half month gap between her final start last year and her first this season.
Annika's not riding a hot streak. She's a human flame who can't be extinguished.
'I think she's awesome,' Lopez said. 'I don't think anybody in the sports world gives her enough credit for what she has done and what she's accomplished and I think really, and truly she's better than Tiger Woods.
'We have a lot of great players out here and nobody is even coming close to her.'
Forget about a Big 3 or a Big 4 or a Big 5 in the women's world; No. 1's so considerable, there just isn't enough room for anyone else. In fact, she's so big, so much better at the moment than every other female golfer, that there's not even a clear-cut No. 2.
Who's the second best player right now on the LPGA? There's no overwhelming answer. Theres Annika and then theres everyone else.
Karrie Webb? Se Ri Pak? Where'd you go? Where's the challenge? Sorenstam has been so dominating over the last four or five years that she has gradually buried Webb and Pak ' her Hall-of-Fame peers! ' deep in the dark of her shadow.
Lorena Ochoa? Michelle Wie? Paula Creamer? Park? Kerr? Each of them has a chance to reach the top of the women's game. But if and when they do, it will likely be because there is no more Annika.
Eventually Annika has to lose. And eventually she has to retire.
She's been hinting at such a thing for the past few years. But one of the major reasons the talk of retirement was so persistent was because she wanted to start a family. Now there is no husband, which means there won't likely be any little Annikas running around in the very near future. Which means Sorenstam won't be stepping aside in the very near future.
There's a debate as to whether or not this is a good thing.
On one side, there is the group thought that Annika's absence would again lead to parity on the LPGA. This would be good for the whole of the tour. On the other side, there is the group thought that as soon as Annika moves on, so will public interest. Annika isn't just the face of the LPGA; she is the LPGA ' so they believe.
As Carl Spackler once said: Id keep playing.
Until family becomes her primary focus, the extent of her competing will likely be based on her level of concern. Its hard to imagine that anyone could actually get tired of winning. But when youre at the level of an Annika Sorenstam, enthusiasm is directly related to challenges.
And if no one else is going to offer up that challenge, then its up to Annika to find ways to test herself ' whether it be competing against men, winning all four majors in the same season, or completely re-writing the history books in her own ink.
We, as fans, will just have to enjoy things in the present time. Annika certainly is.
'I've always said that if I enjoy playing this game, I'm going to continue to play it,' she said. 'Obviously right now I'm very much enjoying it.'
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts, Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

Regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”