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Show, and Shoes, Go on for Sorenstam

Golf: Footwear is as eye- catching as her game, which produces second straight Nabisco title.

April 01, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO MIRAGE — The sun never sets on Annika Days anymore.

It's starting to seem like sort of a golfing empire these days, at least on the LPGA Tour, where Annika Sorenstam showed once again that there is only one player in charge and it just happens to be the woman with the fire engine-red shoes and the shades pushed back on her cap.

Sorenstam toured Mission Hills Country Club with precision shotmaking, finished with a four-under-par 68 Sunday and won the Kraft Nabisco Championship by one shot over Liselotte Neumann.

If Sorenstam was making some kind of statement with her eight-under 280 score, she was making some other kind of statement with those bright red, shiny shoes. Sorenstam said she had them in the back of her locker all week, but didn't dare try them until Sunday.

"I thought, 'If I'm not afraid to wear those, then I'm not afraid to play,'" she said.

"I don't know why I put them on. Every time I would stand over a putt, I would see those little red toes. It would make me smile."

Whatever it takes. Of course, a four-birdie, no-bogey day, her best round of the week, didn't hurt either.

It was Sorenstam's second consecutive victory at Mission Hills in the LPGA's first major of the year. It also was her fourth major title. The 31-year-old Swede, who won eight times last year, has two more this year and a total of 33 in her nine-year career. Sorenstam is the first to win back-to-back titles at Mission Hills since the event became a major championship in 1983.

And the Sorenstam-Karrie Webb showdown? It didn't show up. While Webb had one of those off days, Sorenstam was way, way on.

Sorenstam impressed even herself with her ability to play so well at such an important time.

"There is no better feeling than to work hard and play this golf course well," she said.

So what happened to Webb?

"Karrie and I have had our battles," Sorenstam said. "She's such a great player. It doesn't mean she won't be up there. Today is just my turn."

Someone pointed out that she has had a lot turns lately.

"Oh, I don't mind," Sorenstam said.

She started quickly with birdies on the fifth and sixth holes, the result of eight-iron approaches that left her with putts of seven feet and nine feet.

Neumann, who closed with a 69, was right there beside her with two birdies on the front nine. But when they made the turn, the next two holes tilted the tournament toward Sorenstam.

At the par-four 10th, Sorenstam hit a seven-iron and the ball stopped three feet from the hole. She made the putt and took a one-shot lead.

Sorenstam made par at the par-five 11th, but Neumann wasn't as fortunate. Her drive was off-line and landed in the right rough. She pitched out to the fairway and her five-iron third shot drifted into the left greenside bunker. Neumann splashed out of the sand to eight feet, but missed the putt for par and settled for a bogey and a two-shot deficit.

"That was a big mistake," Neumann said. "When you make a bogey on a hole that's reachable in two. At least I was strong enough to make two birdies in a row after that."

Neumann rolled in a six-footer to birdie the 12th to cut Sorenstam's lead to one, but she never pulled even. Both players made birdies at the 13th from close range and by the time they reached the 18th tee, Sorenstam still was holding her one-shot lead.

For most of the final 18 holes, it was a two-player race between Sorenstam and Neumann, two Swedes who spend more time in the desert than cactus. Sorenstam has a house at Bighorn and Neumann was here often enough during the winter to play 10 rounds at Mission Hills.

Webb didn't have the kind of closing round she was looking for, which is what happens when you don't make a birdie until the 16th hole. Webb's 72, including a birdie putt that lipped out at the 18th, dropped her from a share of the 54-hole lead to seventh place. Rosie Jones shot a 69 and tied for third with Cristie Kerr, who had a 68.

Carin Koch and Akiko Fukushima both shot 66 and tied for fifth at five-under 283.

Sorenstam's tee shot at the 18th was down the middle, but Neumann's drive was in the right rough and her second shot found a bunker. Sorenstam's second shot was in the springy rough on the left and she managed to knock her ball 18 feet above the hole. Neumann had a decent lie in the bunker and knocked it out to 15 feet below the hole.

Sorenstam looked at the toes of her red shoes and hit the putt, rolling it about two feet past on the right.

Instead of marking her ball, she got permission from Neumann and Webb to play out, so she rolled it right in and waited to see if Neumann could catch her with the only chance she had.

"I didn't want to mark it and look at it for 10 minutes," Sorenstam said.

Neumann said she didn't have any problem with Sorenstam putting out. She also had no problem with Sorenstam's shoes ("they were cool") or finishing second in a major, because she played well enough to win ... almost.

"Boy, was that close," Neumann said.

Close, all right, but if there's anything we have learned about the way things are going these days, the woman in the red shoes is hard to beat.

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