- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

As Annika Sorenstam attempts to complete her third leg of the Grand Slam at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills in Colorado, the idea is inescapable: Her dominance is as much an indictment of the LPGA as it is a testament to her brilliance.

While nobody questions Sorenstam’s sublime talents, it’s impossible not to question her competition. So before Sorenstam’s potential accomplishment can be put on par with what Tiger Woods managed in 2000, when he won three men’s majors, just consider the relative caliber of their competition.

Woods was facing other multiple-major giants like Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Who are the comparable challengers of the LPGA’s Sorenslam era?

One-time major maven Karrie Webb has gone AWOL. Grace Park has a bum back. Se Ri Pak has lost her game. Father Time is finally dormie in his match with Juli Inkster.

So who is the most likely player to defend the honor of the women’s game against the Sorenslam? Two weeks ago at the LPGA Championship, it was 15-year-old amateur Michelle Wie, who finished three behind Sorenstam at Bulle Rock.

And while Wie isn’t anybody’s idea of an average amateur, her incredible success in limited starts on the LPGA says all anyone needs to know about the tour’s almost laughable lack of depth.

In 19 starts on the LPGA Tour as an amateur since she was 12, Wie has made 17 cuts, recorded nine top-20 finishes (eight in the last two years) and twice finished in the top five in majors.

Compare that to Woods’ preprofessional exploits on the PGA Tour. Like Wie, Woods was an unparalleled amateur prodigy, winning six straight USGA titles before turning professional. But unlike Wie, Woods enjoyed absolutely no amateur success on the PGA Tour. In his 14 PGA Tour starts as an amateur from 1992 to 1996, Woods made just five cuts and recorded only one top-25 finish, a tie for 22nd at the 1996 British Open.

Why the difference in results? Few would have the audacity to claim Wie is better prepared than Tiger, who is steadily assembling the greatest record in the game’s history. The difference, of course, is between the tours. No teenager, no matter how great, is going to step onto the PGA Tour as an amateur and make a major impact. An amateur hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open as a junior at Arizona State. The men’s tour is simply too deep to allow for such uprisings.

How deep? Michael Campbell deep. Last week’s U.S. Open stunner became the fifth complete outsider to win a men’s major since the start of the 2000 season, joining Rich Beem, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton. During the same span, only two of the 22 winners of women’s majors could be considered outsiders (Hilary Lunke in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open and Karen Stupples in the 2004 British Open). Virtually all of the rest of the winners came from the LPGA’s small pool of predictables (Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster, Pak, Park and Meg Mallon).

Now that Wie and LPGA rookie Paula Creamer have joined that pool, Annika will have approximately a dozen legitimate challengers at Cherry Hills. But if she does triumph in both Opens, completing her Slam at the British Open at Birkdale (July 28-31), Sorenstam will be the only grand thing about the women’s game.

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