Monday, June 14, 2004

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Annika Sorenstam pretended like it was another practice session with caddie Terry McNamara, the kind in which he stands in a spot with a mitt and catches one wedge shot after another.

The distance was 94 yards. There was no margin for error. The shot was exquisite.

Playing down the wrong fairway, Sorenstam hit a 54-degree wedge over a row of 60-foot trees, beyond a bunker and to within three feet for a birdie on the 16th hole that wrapped up an extraordinary victory in the LPGA Championship.

“You’re not supposed to play it that way,” she said. “I needed that at the time. I wanted to win, and this is a shot I’m going to remember for a long time.”

This one will be difficult to forget.

It was the longest final day at a major in 14 years — 36 holes because of rain earlier in the week at DuPont Country Club. Sorenstam opened a six-shot lead with a flawless round of 64 in the morning, nearly lost it all with a miniature collapse in the afternoon and held off a late charge by Shi Hyun Ahn to win her seventh major championship.

“This one feels great,” Sorenstam said. “I played really well in the morning, but for some reason it started to slip away. Obviously, I’m very glad I turned it around.”

Sorenstam joined Mickey Wright as the only player to successfully defend in three majors. Wright won all four majors back-to-back, and Sorenstam could match that with a victory later this year in the Women’s British Open.

Sorenstam shot 64-72 yesterday and finished at 13-under 271, her fourth victory this year and 52nd of her career. She earned $240,000 to go over $1million for the season.

Ahn, a 19-year-old rookie from South Korea, shot a 66 in the final round and finished three behind. She twice got within two shots of Sorenstam, until the 33-year-old Swede came up with unlikely birdies.

“I thought about it all the way through the round — ‘I’m going to catch up with Annika.’ That was my main determination,” Ahn said through an interpreter.

None that seemed likely when Sorenstam knocked down the flag on the par-3 eighth for a tap-in birdie that gave her a seven-shot lead with 11 holes to play.

Everything changed with one shot.

With a wedge in her hand on the par-5 ninth, Sorenstam attacked the back pin and went long into deep rough, leaving her a delicate chip with the green sloping severely away from her. She compounded her error by leaving it in the rough, and wound up missing a 6-footer to take double bogey.

She missed the 10th fairway and made bogey. She missed a 3-foot par putt on No.11 for another bogey. And when her wedge came up 40 feet away, it looked like the final round was about to unravel.

The recovery was just as shocking as the collapse.

Sorenstam rolled in the long birdie putt, and her reaction said it all — she raised both arms in the air, let out a deep breath and patted her right hand over her heart.

“I was relieved, to say the least,” Sorenstam said. “It was a big momentum shift.”

Earlier this week, she and McNamara went to a nearby course to work on her wedge game. When he stepped off the yardage, McNamara told her, “Pretend I’m standing by the pin with my mitt.”

It was a perfect strike.

The 36-hole final was caused by heavy rain that washed out the second round, which was postponed until Saturday. The last time two rounds were played Sunday in a major was the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open.

The LPGA Tour felt it was important that a major be contested over 72 holes. For a while, it appeared that 54 holes would have sufficed to find the best player at DuPont.

Sorenstam was nearly flawless yesterday morning with a bogey-free 64 that put her at 14-under 199, breaking by two shots the 54-hole record last set by Karrie Webb in 2001.

She birdied the first hole of the final round and some of her challengers — Lorena Ochoa, Juli Inkster and Gloria Park — started to fade.

Jennifer Rosales, playing in the final group with Sorenstam and Inkster, ran into trouble on the ninth hole and her third shot rattled around in the trees and nearly hit Sorenstam.

“The tournament almost ended right there,” CBS Sports analyst David Feherty said. “She almost killed Annika.”

Indeed, that seemed the only thing capable of stopping her.

Sorenstam showed she was human, but ultimately she put on quite a show.

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