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Decision Questioned but Not Pak's Result

Golf: She hangs on for first head-to-head win over Sorenstam, despite laying up on 17th at Tarzana.

April 08, 2002|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Se Ri Pak heard the footsteps, and the source was right in front of her: Annika Sorenstam was making a charge. The LPGA's top two ranked players were in the same group Sunday for the final round of the Office Depot Championship --locked in a head-to-head battle for the title.

A difficult layout at Tarzana's El Caballero Country Club, where no one shot better than 68, only added to the drama. Pak, who wilted slightly early and made what could have been a costly mistake late, withstood No. 1-ranked Sorenstam and shot one-over-par 73 to win her first title of 2002. Her three-round total of seven-under 209 was one better than Sorenstam, who shot 71 Sunday. Pak earned $150,000 and a new car.

Laura Diaz, also playing in the final group, shot 73 and finished four shots behind Pak in third place, but wasn't a major factor. Pak and Sorenstam passed the lead back and forth on the front nine and twice were tied before Pak took control midway through the back nine.

"I knew [Sorenstam] was right behind me, but I tried not to think about it out there," Pak said. "I knew she wasn't going to back off easily, but I was not just going to give my trophy away."

She nearly did on No. 17. Pak came to the par-five hole with a three-shot lead and decided to play it safe. After a drive down the middle of the fairway, Pak, who eagled the hole Saturday, was only 180 yards out, but laid up with a sand wedge.

Her third shot, also a sand wedge, carried past the pin and into the rough behind the green. She chipped up, then two-putted for bogey. Sorenstam, meanwhile, hit to the fringe with her second shot and barely missed an 18-foot eagle putt. She tapped in for birdie and went to the 18th one stroke back.

Pak responded by hitting her approach on 18 to within 20 feet and coming within one roll of the ball of making it. Sorenstam missed her 30-foot birdie attempt and Pak won.

"Today it was a risky shot the way my ball was positioned," Pak said of laying up at No. 17. "I wasn't going to just go for it and make a stupid mistake. If I missed a birdie then fine, I'd just make a par and leave, but I hit it too good and it went over."

Sorenstam questioned Pak's decision.

"I was really quite surprised she made that play," Sorenstam said. "That pin and where she laid up wasn't an easy shot either, so I don't really know what she was thinking. That could have been a turnaround in that tournament, easily. That could have been a costly mistake for her, but she regrouped and played really solid on the last hole and almost made birdie."

It was exactly the type of victory Pak needed. Although Pak won a career-high five tournament titles last year, she finished second to Sorenstam twice and had never beaten the Swede head-to-head in a final round. "It's a little bit painful, so don't ask me about it anymore," Pak joked.

Although she is ranked No. 2, Pak still considers herself a step behind Sorenstam.

"Her game is 100% all the time," Pak said. "I'm only 70%. She hits a lot of difficult shots every day, and I need more experience playing to help my game. Everything is perfect for her already. For me, right now I'm close but not 100%."

Although Sorenstam and Karrie Webb have won the last five player-of-the-year awards, the Swede wouldn't be surprised if Pak challenged for the award soon.

"She won five times, and she is still in the shadow," Sorenstam said. "I mean she doesn't get the credit she deserves. She's a wonderful player, and I'm sure we'll have several more battles like this."

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