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Annika on Cutting Edge

Sorenstam's solid 71 barely misses her goal of par but wins her admirers

May 23, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

FORT WORTH — They were standing five deep and straining against the gallery ropes along the fairway. They jammed the balconies and filled the windows of the three-story, red brick clubhouse that overlooked the tee where Annika Sorenstam prepared for her mission by taking a few practice swings.

Sorenstam judged herself ready to go. She had already finished up a brief, one-sided conversation with her golf ball and now she swung her four-wood and sent the ball hurtling straight down the middle of the fairway of her first hole (No. 10) at Colonial Country Club.

The crowd cheered in unison, but the voice of one loud male fan stood out from the rest.

"You da man!"

Well, not exactly, but Sorenstam made quite an impression Thursday at the Bank of America Colonial tournament, where she bogeyed the last hole but still managed a one-over-par 71 in the first round played by a woman in a PGA Tour event in 58 years.

Keeping score at home or in the locker room, Sorenstam also played better than 27 of the male pros.

Sorenstam, the top female player in the world, was her usual self in her gender-bending debut on the men's pro tour. As advertised, Sorenstam proved to be a precise shot-maker who can find both the fairway and the green with ease but has some trouble putting.

Afterward, Sorenstam hugged the other two players in her group and then gave them both high-fives in the scorer's tent. Neither act is standard procedure on the PGA Tour, but then neither is a woman on the tee.

"I was nervous all day," Sorenstam said. "It never went away. So I'm very happy the way I played. It was a great day. It was more than I could ever have expected."

Maybe the most surprising part of Sorenstam's day was how she was able to ignore the moving mountains of distraction that cropped up in her path, almost with every step she took.

It began early. If she had looked at one of the morning newspapers, Sorenstam could have seen the headline in very large type, "Can She Cut It?" That's still the question hanging over Sorenstam's foray into men's professional golf.

The 70 players with the lowest scores and anyone tied at that number after 36 holes are completed today will make the cut and play the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday.

Rory Sabbatini's six-under 64 was good enough for him to take the first-round lead while Sorenstam is tied for 73rd.

"I would love to make the cut," she said. "But if I play like I did today, then it really doesn't matter. I don't know what position I'm in. I just played really good today.

"I don't know what people think and saw. Personally, I came here to test myself. I'm proud of the way I was focusing and proud of the decisions I made and that I stuck to them. And that's why I am here. I want to see if I could do it. That's all that matters to me."

It might have been difficult for Sorenstam to keep her mind trained on her business, but she showed that her mental toughness was of high quality. She did not acknowledge the sideshow in her wake.

Sorenstam's grouping with Barber and Wilson didn't need only marshals, it needed a ringmaster.

Barber shot a 72 while Wilson matched Sorenstam with a 71. Wilson said it was a great day, but an unusual one.

"A little bit of a circus with so many people," he said.

Besides the crowd that followed her and roughly enough media to stretch from here to Dallas, there were also fans like John Harrell, who wore a chicken hat with "Vijay" in felt material on the side.

Harrell believes Vijay Singh was wrong when he said Sorenstam didn't belong at Colonial.

"He's a chicken," Harrell said of Singh, who pulled out of the tournament after winning the Bryon Nelson last weekend. "He's afraid of her."

Sorenstam might have been nervous, but the way she played did not betray any such emotion.

She missed only four greens and one fairway, the fifth, which was her 14th hole, and where she made her first bogey. Sorenstam drove into the left rough and, with just under 200 yards to the pin, reached the green with a four-iron but was still more than 60 feet from the hole.

Sorenstam had a birdie putt on every hole, had 33 official putts and used her putter 37 times. She missed a six-foot putt for par on No. 5 and fell to even par for the round.

Her lone birdie was on her fourth hole, the 13th, where she putted from off the green and rolled it in from 15 feet.

"That was a great little birdie," she said. "I told my caddie [Terry McNamara] that, 'Well, at least I made one birdie.' So it was a relief.... It was really cool."

At the ninth hole, the closing hole in her round, Sorenstam missed the green from 176 yards with a seven-iron. With her ball in the short rough at the back of the green, Sorenstam used her putter, but rolled it nearly eight feet past the hole. She missed her par putt back up the hill.

Instead of reaching her goal of an even-par round of 70, she signed her card and made her way out of the scorer's tent, accompanied by nine uniformed security guards.

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