- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

FORT WORTH, Texas — When her final putt fell for a par, Annika Sorenstam walked off the 18th green at the Colonial to a standing ovation unlike anything the winner will hear tomorrow.

Never mind that she shot a 4-over 74 yesterday and missed the cut by four shots.

This was a chance to test herself at the highest level, on a tough course, under the kind of pressure few others in the history of golf have ever faced.

“I’ve climbed as high as I can,” she said. “And it was worth every step.”

The first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour showed she could hold her own against the men — but only for two days.

She was 5-over 145 and tied for 96th out of 111 players who finished two rounds.

“I don’t regret anything about coming here,” Sorenstam said. “If a lady is good enough to get an invite or she qualifies, she should have every right to come here.”

Though smiling to the end, Sorenstam wiped away tears as she walked off the green to a deafening and well-deserved ovation. She cried again when she signed for her 74, realizing that three months of steeling herself for the occasion, and two days on a stage she’ll never visit again, were finally over.

“I didn’t want it to end,” she said. “I tested myself from start to finish. That’s why I was here.”

Sorenstam wound up 13 strokes behind co-leaders Kenny Perry (64) and Dan Forsman (66), who will take a one-stroke lead into the weekend.

It probably won’t be the same.

Sorenstam brought a buzz to Colonial not felt since Ben Hogan was prowling a course that became known as “Hogan’s Alley.”

For one week — and maybe longer — this was “Annika’s Alley.”

“It’s been fantastic,” Sorenstam said. “They have cheered me on from the first tee to the 18th hole. I didn’t want to let them down.”

Babe Zaharias was the last woman to compete on the tour, in 1945. She made the 36-hole cut in the Los Angeles Open, but failed to qualify for the final round. She also played in Tucson and Phoenix, making the cut both times.

Suzy Whaley will play in the Greater Hartford Open in late July, having qualified through a tournament for club pros.

Sorenstam believes another woman will take on the PGA Tour — but it won’t be her.

“It was a great week, but I’ve got to go back to my tour, where I belong,” she said. “I’m glad I did it, but this is way over my head.”

The competition was the best in the world. The course was longer — 7,080 yards — and tougher than any other she has played. The atmosphere was something only Tiger Woods could appreciate.

Sorenstam handled it all better than most expected, and eight shots better than the odds out of Las Vegas.

“Length wasn’t a problem,” she said. “It was everything around it. I’m emotionally drained, because I gave it all I had.”

Leading the cheers were some of the men.

“The way she handled herself with style and grace … it’s kind of a sad ending, I suppose,” Forsman said. “I want to see the rest of the story.”

For a fleeting moment, this looked as if it might have a storybook ending.

An afternoon start brought slightly tougher conditions on the course, and wild enthusiasm among the thousands outside the ropes. Fans were stacked so deep behind the green that some cheered without ever seeing the shot.

Support came from all quarters.

“I hope she makes the cut,” President Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, about two hours away.

Sorenstam raised everyone’s hopes early.

She saved par from the bunker twice on the first three holes. In between, she fired at the flag and holed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 2 to get to even par for the tournament, just inside the cut line.

Still, there were signs she was not on top of her game, that three months of buildup and three days under intense scrutiny were starting to take their toll.

It began to unravel on No. 5, the last of a three-hole stretch known as the “Horrible Horseshoe,” when her tee shot sailed to the right and into the trees.

Sorenstam was lucky the branches knocked the ball into the rough instead of sending it into the hazard. She punched out to the fairway, missed the green to the left and had to make a 15-foot putt for bogey.

Another chunked chip on No. 6 led to another bogey. She took three putts from 70 feet on the eighth hole, her first effort barely making it up the ridge.

“I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was,” she said. “I was so nervous.”

Just like that, she was at 3 over for the tournament and in need of at least two birdies on the back nine just to qualify for the weekend.

Her hopes ended quickly with a pair of three-putts — from 30 feet on the 10th, and from close to 50 feet on No. 12, when her short par putt lipped out and sent her to 5 over.

Sorenstam said she wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone, least of all that she could beat the boys.

Even those at the top of the leader board were impressed.

“I played with Tiger two times last year … and the media scrutiny was really intense out there,” Perry said. “I performed very poorly. My hat’s off to her. I think she did a great job.”

Jesper Parnevik, who had a 68 and was among those at 6-under 134, said after a practice round with Sorenstam on Tuesday that for her to break 75 both days would be a realistic goal.

Sorenstam was better than that, and well under the 153 predicted by Vegas bookmakers.

“She played amazing,” Parnevik said. “I guess we have the Shark, the Tiger and now we have the Superwoman.”

Now she goes back to her day job.

After two rounds on the most demanding stage, before the kind of crowds she has never seen before and might not again, Sorenstam has a title to defend next week outside Chicago in the Kellogg-Keebler Classic.

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