Annika Still The Greatest

By Mercer BaggsJuly 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 U.S. Womens OpenAnnika Sorenstam didnt need to win the U.S. Womens Open to prove her greatness. She didnt need to ever win again to prove that.
But this victory does prove something ' shes still the greatest dame in the game today.
Not Karrie, not Se Ri, not Lorena, not Michelle, not Paula. Annika.
Compared to seasons past, at least leading up to this event at Newport Country Club, this one had paled in terms of accomplishment. Usually by this time, Sorenstam has already picked up a handful of victories as well as a major championship or two. In fact, from 2000-05, Sorenstam averaged five wins and one major title ' all before the Womens Open. Thats not one fluke, bountiful half-season; thats just her average, regular performance leading up to the LPGA Tours biggest event.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has won at least one major in six straight seasons.
If that was average, then this season had been below average -- had been.
Entering this week, Sorenstam had played nine times and hadnt hoisted a trophy since her season-opener in Mexico. Eight events without a win. No big deal, huh? Well, she hadnt experienced a drought like that since she played 10 straight winless tournaments in 2001.
Annika is a numbers girl ' she loves them, bases her worth as a player on them. And her numbers are absolutely ridiculous ' stupid good. The two most important numbers are 68 and 10. Those are her overall tour victories and her major championship titles, respectively. Shes 20 back of Kathy Whitworth in the former department, and five behind Patty Berg in the latter.
Shes now won as many major championships as has Tiger Woods, and tied him, coincidentally, on the same course that he won his second U.S. Amateur Championship.
And, she's now won at least one major for the sixth straight season. Ask Tiger how impressive that is.
This may well have been the biggest victory of her career. Not just based on her start to the season, but because the games greatest player ' perhaps the greatest of all-time ' hadnt won the games most precious prize in a decade.
These particular numbers didnt add up. Sorenstam was capable of winning any and every tournament, the whole world over, many times over, and yet she couldnt win this one.
This was the tournament that Sorenstams game was built to win. Her length, her precision, her mental make-up, her dominant presence ' perfect for winning the Open. And yet she hadnt since 1996, when she successfully defended her Womens Open title.
Its almost comical watching Annika winning the Open in 95 and 96. Appearance alone, she looks like a totally different person than she does nowadays ' and, I suppose, she really is.
No longer does she look the part of the frail, shy Swede who needed two hands plus a little extra help to hold the Open trophy over her head. Now, she can curl that sucker left-handed alone and stuff anyone inside who dares try and take it away.
Speaking of her physical make-up, it had to give her quite an advantage over Pat Hurst in the playoff, which she won by four strokes with a 1-under 70. Without being mean-spirited, theres quite a contrast between the two bodies, and after having played 36 holes on Sunday ' under very trying elemental conditions, on a U.S. Open venue ' Sorenstams fitness on Monday had to tip the scales in her favor (no pun intended); that plus the fact that Sorenstam held a 2-0 advantage over Hurst in previous playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, the USGA would do well to abandon their 18-hole, next-day format. Perhaps it was a plausible system in the past; though, Ive always felt it was a bit excessive. It just seems like such a momentum killer. Youve got all this excitement at the conclusion of regulation, not to mention all of these fans in attendance and millions of people watching at home, and you just pull the plug and delay both resolution and gratification.
Now, the players have to prepare themselves for one more day of golf; patrons have to go home with an empty feeling; those fans and the ones at home may not even get to see the conclusion because of Monday work; and if they do get to see it on TV, big whoop ' a two- or three-person, stroke-play, 18-hole playoff is the reason God allowed man to create the remote control. And, speaking from experience, a Monday finish, under any circumstance, is a huge pain in the posterior for anyone covering the tournament.
If the USGA, or any of their proponents, find sudden death too finicky, then adopt a cumulative, 3- or 4-hole, day-of playoff system like the ones employed by the Open and PGA championships.
The system, though, is just a topical rant; the major point of interest is the person who won this major.
Annika Sorenstam is once again, and for the third time, a U.S. Womens Open champion. This could prove to be the jumpstart she needs to get her game up to speed. She may well win five, six, seven more times this season; claim the money title; win Player of the Year. Or she might not. She might not do any of those things.
Either way, she just accomplished the one thing that she most wanted ' she won the major. Not a major ' THE major. The one, and just about only tournament, that had escaped her grasp over the last 10 years.
And either way, regardless of who wins the most tournaments this year, who wins the most the cash, who is voted Player of the Year ' Annika Sorenstam is still the greatest in the game today.
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