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Streaking Sorenstam Hoping to Ace Another History Test

April 12, 2001|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Annika Sorenstam knows all about history. After all, she has made her share of it over the last month.

Ms. 59 has a chance to make another entry in the record books at the Office Depot Hosted by Amy Alcott beginning today at Wilshire Country Club.

Sorenstam has won the last three LPGA tournaments. A victory here would equal the tour record for victories in consecutively scheduled events, a mark set by Mickey Wright in 1962 and equaled by Wright in '63 and Kathy Whitworth in '69.

Nancy Lopez, who won five consecutive starts in 1978, holds the record for victories in tournaments played. Lopez won three in a row, skipped a tournament, then won two more.

"I know what's going on," Sorenstam said. "But I just want to focus on my game and the tournament itself. I do get nervous, so I'm going to try and keep it on one level. The less I build it up, the better it will be for myself."

Sorenstam is a combined 57 under par during her victory streak, which includes the Nabisco Championship--the first major of the year.

She finished second in the two tournaments she played before the three victories. Her $636,448 in earnings is nearly double that of second-place Karrie Webb's $325,520.

Sorenstam has been so impressive this season that people are beginning to say she's too good to keep playing against women.

A national golf publication reported last week that Sorenstam would try to qualify for the men's U.S. Open this summer.

Sorenstam put that talk to rest Wednesday when she said it wasn't true.

"It's just a rumor," she said. "I don't know where that's coming from. I thought it was quite funny."

What she is doing to her opponents this year is no laughing matter.

Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster are still looking for their first victories of 2001. Se Ri Pak, who won a tournament this year that Sorenstam didn't enter, shot rounds of 65, 68, 63 and 67 at Phoenix and still lost to Sorenstam by two.

Grace Park, who also won a tournament this year when Sorenstam didn't play, is trying to defend a title she won in South Carolina last year. City of Hope moved the tournament to Los Angeles.

"I really don't feel like a defending champion," Park said. "The biggest thing is that I have my own parking spot."

So there's one thing she has on Sorenstam.

"I think it's amazing what she has done the past couple of months," Park said. "It's every player's goal to have success like Annika. She has been great for the LPGA and great for other players to have something to look forward to, to set some goals."

Sorenstam has elevated the tour with her recent run of success much the same way Tiger Woods has on the PGA Tour.

The comparisons don't end there. Both credit a commitment to exercise and practice and both have a keen sense of what they want to accomplish.

Take Sorenstam's 59, for example. Instead of doling out the cliches about playing one shot at a time, Sorenstam acknowledged that she was thinking about making history.

"At the time, I knew exactly what was happening," she said. "I was in a zone and focusing, but I knew that no other woman had [broken 60], so of course I knew the history to that."

At times, she said, she felt as though she was observing history, not making it.

"It's taken awhile to have it sink in that it happened to me, that I did it," she said. "Now I really understand that this is history, this is forever."

It probably isn't prudent to make too many comparisons to Woods, but Sorenstam is the only LPGA player with a shot at winning the Grand Slam. The U.S. Open will be at Pine Needles in North Carolina, where Sorenstam won the Open by six shots in 1996.

"I'm looking forward to that," Sorenstam said.

Perhaps making history motivates Sorenstam the same way it motivates Woods, but so does being labeled the top player in women's golf. Sorenstam wore that label in 1995, '97 and '98, but lost it the last two years with the emergence of Webb.

When Webb passed her as the top player in the game by winning consecutive money titles in 1999 and 2000, Sorenstam regrouped.

"I finished fourth on the money list in 1999 and I realized that wasn't where I wanted to be," Sorenstam said. "To see Karrie win majors, win the money list, I realized that's what I wanted to do. She's pushed me, definitely."

Webb is not playing this week, nor will she play the next two weeks, but that doesn't mean Sorenstam isn't thinking about her.

"If I know Karrie right, she's home practicing hard right now," Sorenstam said. "She's not going to give me a break. When she comes back, she's going to be tough."

But, back to the task at hand. Many say that another historical performance by Sorenstam is exactly what the LPGA Tour needs right now.

"I hope Annika does it," said Whitworth, the last to win four consecutive tournaments. "Actually, I'd be thrilled if she could win five in a row. That's a great milestone for us and great for her."

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