- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — Halfway home to the Grand Slam, miles ahead of everyone else, Annika Sorenstam could hardly wait to take care of a most pressing matter yesterday after winning the LPGA Championship.

Tiger Woods had sent her a text message in April after he won the Masters to remind her that it was his ninth major championship, one more than Sorenstam. Her three-shot victory over Michelle Wie allowed her to catch him.

“I’m going to text him right now,” she said, walking out the door with a gleam in her eye. “Nine.”

Right now, that might be the only competition she is facing.

Making the Grand Slam look like a slam dunk, Sorenstam looked unstoppable as ever at Bulle Rock Golf Club by building an eight-shot lead at the turn and leaving everyone else with a familiar, hopeless feeling. Bogeys on the last two holes gave her a 1-over 73 and only made the margin seem closer than it was.

“I’m just glad it’s over and that I won,” she said.

Sorenstam became the first LPGA Tour player in 19 years to win the first two majors, and no one has any reason to believe she won’t win the next two.

First came an eight-shot victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March. This one was just as dominant, with Sorenstam taking the lead on the 16th hole of the second round and pouring it on from there.

Next stop: The U.S. Women’s Open in two weeks at Cherry Hills in Colorado.

“You are witnessing one of the greatest runs of any athlete in any sport at any time,” LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said.

Her only competition in the final round — if it can be called that — came from an extraordinary 15-year-old who just finished the 10th grade and is still learning to drive a car.

Wie again came under scrutiny when the LPGA Championship changed its criteria and allowed her to become the first amateur in the 51-year history of this event. But she showed she belonged, giving the big crowd a glimpse of the future with a 3-under 69 to finish second.

It was the highest finish by an amateur in a major championship since 20-year-old Jenny Chuasiriporn lost in a playoff to Se Ri Pak in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open.

“I was trying to make it a run for her money,” said Wie, who passed up $164,385 because she’s an amateur. “I don’t want to prove anything to anyone. I was really happy to be here, and I felt like I finished really strong.”

Ultimately, that’s what the final round was all about — who was going to finish second.

Sorenstam was greeted with the applause for champions when she walked onto the first tee with a five-shot lead. It was up to six shots by the second hole, and the tournament was effectively over at the par-3 third.

The green is perched up in the trees, some 150 yards away from the gallery, and all they could see was Sorenstam keeping her head down even after as she stroked her 20-foot putt, not looking up until it was in the hole.

It was a fitting environment for Sorenstam because no one is close to her in the game.

She finished at 11-under 277 and earned $270,000, moving her past $17 million for her career. She won for the sixth time in eight starts this year and now has 62 victories for her career.

“I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I look at my results,” Sorenstam said. “I feel like I’m just a little girl from Sweden that came over here to follow my dreams and hope to win a few golf tournaments. When I look at my bio in the LPGA book, I get overwhelmed.”

Her dream was to win. Her goal was the Grand Slam, clearly outlined at the start of the season.

The U.S. Women’s Open is the biggest major of the year on the LPGA Tour, one that has eluded Sorenstam since she won it in 1995 and 1996 at the onset of her career.

At this point, it looks like a mere formality.

“I’d love to see her do it,” Nancy Lopez said. “I’d like to see some players make her work for it.”

Pat Bradley was the last woman to win the first two majors of the year in 1986, and she tied for fifth in the U.S. Women’s Open that year at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. Bradley then won the last major of the year.

Mickey Wright also won the first two majors in 1961.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop her,” Angela Stanford said. “She’s playing her own game. It’s not like we can play defense or offense. We just have to go out and play our best.”

Sorenstam wasn’t perfect. She again made a mess of the par 5s, playing them in 3 over for the week. And her record streak of 14 consecutive rounds under par ended yesterday with a pedestrian round.

No matter.

She joined Patty Berg as the only female players to win the same major three consecutive years. Berg won the Titleholders from 1937 to 1939.

Paula Creamer, the 18-year-old who just graduated high school, closed with a 67 to pick up valuable Solheim Cup points. She tied for third at 6-under 282 with Laura Davies (71), who again showed her entertainment value by rattling off birdies and giving them back with a double bogey.

Natalie Gulbis rallied after a rugged start for a 73 and finished another shot back with Lorena Ochoa (72).

Wie provided quite a show on the back nine with back-to-back birdies and an array of shots beyond her years. Along with a big drive that helped her reached the par-5 15th in two for a birdie, she saved par with a nifty pitch that trickled onto the green at the 14th.

This was her second top five in a major, having finished fourth at the Kraft Nabisco last year. But just like everyone else, she had no chance to catch Sorenstam. Wie’s only hope was that Sorenstam didn’t sign her card.

“One can only hope,” she said with a laugh.

Sorenstam now has nine majors — same as Woods, who goes for the second leg of his Grand Slam next week in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

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