Team Annika

By Randall MellFebruary 16, 2010, 11:24 pm
A familiar shadow falls across the LPGA more than a year since she left competition.

Annika Sorenstam’s influence will continue to be felt with the tour’s second season without her beginning Thursday at the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand event at Siam Country Club’s Old Course in Chonburi.

Sorenstam, 40, will continue to impose her ambition on the tour without hitting a single shot.
Anna Nordqvist
Anna Nordqvist won two big events in 2009 on the LPGA. (Getty Images)

Anna Nordqvist and Pernilla Lindberg will play under the Annika Team banner. While there’s no financial or management connection uniting these up-and-coming Swedish players to Sorenstam, there’s emotional and spiritual bonds to the LPGA Hall of Famer. The duo is the beginning of what Sorenstam hopes will become a larger alliance of young Swedish professionals.

“The team’s purpose is to help young players transition from amateur golf to professional golf,” said Sorenstam, winner of 72 LPGA events. “The role I play is to share my experience and knowledge and try to inspire these girls to take their games to the next level.

“Most of all, it’s to help them avoid making mistakes.”

While the Swedish Golf Federation and national team have given young amateurs in that country solid foundations, there’s no bridge helping them cross to the professional ranks. The Annika Team was built to serve that role and falls under the reach of Sorenstam’s foundation. She says it’s one of her ways of giving back.

According to the Annika Team mission statement, the team’s goal is to “produce the next generation of talented young women who will play on the LPGA tour and represent Sweden on future European Solheim Cup teams.” The team aims to provide the resources to do that.

“When you become a professional, you are on your own and it isn’t always easy,” Sorenstam said. “I remember what it was like. I remember when I was in that situation 16 years ago. I remember what a big change it was, what an adjustment. I remember the headaches. I made mistakes I could have avoided with help.”

Nordqvist, 22, the first member of the Annika Team, broke through to win the McDonald’s LPGA Championship as a rookie last season. She showed she’s no one-hit wonder with a bold charge to win the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship, beating world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa and No. 2 Jiyai Shin in an impressive finish. It helped Nordqvist surge to her place today at No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Sophie Gustafson (No. 18), Maria Hjorth (No. 24) and Helen Alfredsson (No. 28) are all Swedish forces on the LPGA, but Mikaela Parmlid (No. 100) is the only other Swedish player under 30 among the top 100 in the world rankings.

Lindberg, 23, is a promising rookie. She’s a former Oklahoma State standout who made it through the LPGA and Ladies European Tour qualifying schools this winter to earn status on both tours.

Nordqvist and Lindberg spent a week training at the Annika Academy at the Reunion Resort in Orlando last month in preparation for this week’s start of the LPGA season.

“I always watched Annika growing up,” said Nordqvist, who won the Annika Sorenstam Trophy as the best young Swedish amateur while playing at Arizona State. “She was my role model. I really wanted to play with her, but when I made it to the tour as a rookie last year, she was gone.”

In the long run, it might have been the best thing for Nordqvist. As a player competing for the same trophies, Sorenstam wasn’t likely to give up all her secrets to her competition, even if it were a fellow Swede. Nordqvist gets full access as an Annika Team member with Sorenstam saying she has no plans to return to golf this season. Sorenstam said she’s committed to her new life as a mother to Ava Madelyn McGee, her 5-month-old daughter, and to growing her businesses.

Sorenstam’s life is all about nurturing now. It’s about nurturing family as well as her businesses. Nordqvist and Lindberg are part of her golf family.

After winning the McDonald’s LPGA Championship last June, Nordqvist’s life changed dramatically. She concedes it was overwhelming.

“After winning that, there was a lot more pressure,” Nordqvist said. “All of a sudden, there was the expectation I was supposed to win the very next tournament. I remember finishing 30th the week after and feeling like I played very well. I was exhausted, and I was happy the way I played, but everyone else was disappointed.

“I remember talking to Annika about how I should move forward.”

Sorenstam talked to Nordqvist about staying focused on what got her in position to win her first event and about not getting caught up in the hype over what other people now expected of her. Sorenstam’s first LPGA victory was the U.S. Women’s Open in 1995.

“I shared with her my experience when I won the U.S. Open,” Sorenstam said. “I shared how I was thrown into the big arena right away and the things I had to deal with. I shared how to handle sponsor relations, the media, how to continue to reach short-term goals, long-term goals and stay on the right path while still trying to improve. The hardest part is finding balance.”

The Annika Team includes Henri Reis, Sorenstam’s long-time swing coach, and Kai Fusser, her physical trainer. There’s also IMG’s Eva Herder, who is Sorenstam’s Swedish manager, who offers education in the agent and media realms. And there’s Katarina Vangdal, the former Swedish National Team coach who serves as the Annika Team coach.

Lindberg joined the Annika Team this year. She tried to make the most of her meetings with Sorenstam at the Annika Academy last month.

“I had some questions for Annika, but mostly they weren’t about golf,” Lindberg said. “They were about agents, sponsors, caddies, media. I needed help with all of that. It’s what I wanted to get most out of my week with Annika.”

Sorenstam would like to have four players on her team by next year.

 “There is a real need for this,” Herder said. “Annika is the key.”

The Annika Team has another strong focus this season. It’s getting a Ladies European Tour event back in Sweden. After Sorenstam retired, sponsorship of the Scandinavian TPC hosted by Annika was dropped last year. This will mark the second season there will be no Swedish event on the Ladies European Tour.

“Young Swedish girls need to see these players,” Vangdal said. “We need this event back. A generation of young players will miss seeing that event for a second year. There’s going to be a price for that.”

Herder said Sorenstam’s leading a push for the event’s return. A title sponsor’s needed.

“We had a very successful women’s tournament that’s now disappeared, and I’m sad about that,” Sorenstam said. “We’ve worked very, very hard to try to get that back. The economy has hit us hard there, but we are optimistic we can get that back next year. I’m a big force behind that.

“We need a professional tournament for junior girls to see, for our professionals to be able to showcase themselves in front of a home crowd. I feel strongly about that. It’s part of the responsibility of being a golfing nation, helping the European Tour out.”

Someday, Sorenstam would love to see an Annika Team member win that event.

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.