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Sorenstam Goes for Crossover

February 20, 2003|Michael Arkush

1 Can Annika Sorenstam do it again? "I'm not sure she even has to," ABC commentator Judy Rankin said. "All she has to do is have a really good year, and I believe she will. She's too good right now to completely fail." True enough, yet there is room for Sorenstam to perform better in the majors. Of her 11 LPGA victories last year, only one (the Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills) came in the big tournaments. Overall, she has four major titles among her 42 wins, trailing such contemporaries as Juli Inkster (seven) and Karrie Webb (six).

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2 Will Sorenstam make the cut at Colonial? Don't bet against her. Her choice for the historic moment was wisely calculated, minimizing the serious disadvantages she would face on a longer layout. The pressure and media scrutiny will be intense in Fort Worth, but few athletes are better at focusing on the task ahead. Phil Mickelson estimated she'll finish about 20th. That isn't unrealistic.

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3 Will Michelle Wie, 13, make an LPGA cut this year? Yes. Wie, the Hawaiian eighth-grader who will play three events this year on sponsor exemptions, has already amazed PGA Tour players with her length -- she can hit it about 290 -- and poise. Wie has even been offered exemptions to compete in two events on the men's Canadian tour

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4 Can Juli Inkster still be a factor? Absolutely, especially in the big tournaments, which seem to fire her up. Inkster, who turns 43 in June, has won four majors in the last four years, including last year's stirring victory over Sorenstam at the U.S. Open. Nobody does a more impressive job of striking the right balance between commitments to her family and her passion for competition.

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5 Will Dottie Pepper make a successful comeback? "No question," said Pepper, a 17-time winner who has recovered from the shoulder injuries that forced her to miss all but one official tournament in 2002. "I'm playing the first eight events." Don't count Pepper out of making the U.S. Solheim Cup team, which will play Europe in Sweden in September. Until missing last year's competition, she had played on every squad since the event's inception in 1990. Pepper is only 37.

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6 What will last year's two best rookies, Beth Bauer and Natalie Gulbis, do for an encore? For starters, win a tournament. Both had their chances last year, and, with a full season behind them, should be more prepared for the back nine on Sundays. They'll be challenged by this year's top newcomer, Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, the former University of Arizona star who was the leading money winner on the Futures Tour. "She has the will of a top player," Rankin said.

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7 Will Kelli Kuehne finally live up to expectations? It won't be easy. Seven years ago, Kuehne, a two-time U.S. Amateur champion, signed a lucrative deal with Nike. But Kuehne, who turns 26 in May, has won only once (the 1999 Corning Classic) in 118 starts since beginning her first full LPGA season in 1998. "The competition is far better than people realize," Kuehne said.

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8 Will the foreigners lead the way again? Almost certainly. Besides Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Kerrie Webb and Grace Park will probably enjoy big seasons, as well as Korea's Mi Hyun Kim, who won twice last year and finished fourth on the money list. Overall, non-Americans won 26 of 32 of events. But if Laura Diaz and Christie Kerr, who enjoyed their best years in 2002, can build on that momentum, the gap could be narrowed. "This is the best tour there is," Pepper said. "There's going to be foreign winners."

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9 Who will make the U.S. Solheim Cup squad? The strong candidates include holdovers from last year's triumphant squad (Diaz, Kerr, Inkster, Kuehne, Rosie Jones, Kelly Robbins, Meg Mallon, Michele Redman, Pat Hurst, Wendy Ward, Emilee Klein and Beth Daniel), as well as Bauer, Gulbis, Pepper, Dorothy Delasin, Donna Andrews, and Brandie Burton.

-- Michael Arkush

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