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Ladies First Major Looks to be Quite a Test

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Its the first major of the year and the host course for the LPGAs Kraft Nabisco Championship should provide a major test. The Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills is the kind of course that brings to mind the standard line of the USGA: We want to provide a test that will identify the best golfer.
The course is in perfect major condition. The lush fairways are providing little roll, so the one of the longest tracks on tour is playing even longer.
The week starts with the rough about three inches long ' not U.S. Open length, yet. But it is extremely thick and penal.
As they are every year here, the greens are firm and fast. Any player who finds herself in greenside rough, above the hole, will be hard-pressed to get up and down in two.
Any player who finds herself hitting an approach shot from that lush rough has a couple of options 'neither is good. Any shot that jumps from the thick stuff has little chance of stopping on a putting surface if it lands on the green and if the plan is to land the shot short of the green and run it up, forget it. The fairways in front of the greens are too soft.
The course and the way it is set up puts a premium on ball-striking and course management. The cream should rise to the top. Which brings us to Annika Sorenstam.
The best female golfer on the planet has won the Dinah two years in a row. Shes trying to become the first player in LPGA history to win the same major three years in a row.
A few thoughts about storylines this week:
*The last time Annika had a shot at winning a major three straight times was at the U.S. Womens Open in 1997. She missed the cut.
*Annika is not the same player she was six years ago.
*Liselotte Neumann finished second to Sorenstam here last year by one stroke. This winter, Neumann was seen at Annikas home course in Orlando, getting a lesson from Sorenstams coach. Ive got to figure out how to get more distance, said Neumann.
*Granted it was in the thin, warm air of the Arizona desert, but last week, Annika averaged 286.9 yards per drive in her first tournament of the year. Thats 21 yards longer than her average last year. This week, length is a premium.
*Speaking of long driving: If Laura Davies wins this week, shell complete the career grand slam and earn the two points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
*Annika comes to mind again. The only thing she needs to do to qualify for the Hall is to complete her 10th year on Tour. This is Sorenstams 10th year and she wants to make it something special.
*If 25-year-old Se Ri Pak (last weeks winner) wins this Kraft Nabisco, shed be the youngest player to complete the career slam.
*If Meg Mallon wins this week, shed complete the career slam. Two weeks ago, Meg shot a 60.
*Dottie Pepper won this championship four years ago with a major championship record-score of 19-under par. After missing the cut last week, Dotties playing this week with one of those Scotty Cameron Titleist Futura putters. Her buddy, Jeff Sluman, sent it to her. Yes, its hideous looking, she says.
*Sorenstam, Pak, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster have combined to win all eight of the past eight major championships 16 of the last 20.
*43-year-old Rosie Jones has yet to win a major championship, but has finished in the top-10 22 times in the majors. She tied for third here last year.
*13-year-old Michelle Wie is playing in a major for the first time in her career.