Annika Sorenstam finishes strong at Safeway International

The heat and the wind didn’t bother Annika Sorenstam. She thought it was fun. With her competitors fading and wilting in the stiff winds and 97-degree heat during the final round of the Safeway International, Sorenstam turned it up a notch with a 2-under-par 70 that made her one of only four players to break par March 21.

“I woke up early because the wind was howling at my window, so I knew it was going to be a tough day,” said Sorenstam, who finished at 18-under 270 in her first 2004 LPGA appearance. “It seemed like the wind was strong all day, and it made the course so different and so much tougher.”

You’d have never known it from watching Sorenstam. The world’s No. 1 player ended the day stronger than she started, with birdies on three of her final six holes – including a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th. She finished four shots ahead of Cristie Kerr and earned $180,000 for her 49th career LPGA victory.

“Now I’m tired, just because I’ve been thinking all day and working so hard,” Sorenstam said. “But it’s also a lot of fun. This is where you really have to have control over your ball.”

Fun isn’t the word the majority of the field would use. The searing heat and 25 mph wind caused scores to soar at Superstition Mountain Golf Club. Forty-six of 82 players shot 76 or higher, and 21 failed to break 80.

In the last two years of this event, played at Moon Valley Golf Club – site of Sorenstam’s LPGA-record 59 in 2001 – she had failed to hold the third-round lead. Not this time.

“When you’re playing against Annika, even under tough conditions, you have to be on top of your game,” said Kerr, who shot 1-under 71. “I didn’t feel like I was on top of my game today. . . . It was a very, very tough day.”

Sorenstam now heads to this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship – the opening leg of her quest to be the first to complete the LPGA Grand Slam. “It’s very hard to do,” she said. “Nobody else has done it, so I think that says it all. But I like to set goals, I like to motivate myself. If you believe in your mind, I think you can do it.”

And though she has talked of wanting to someday raise a family, Sorenstam is beginning this season with anticipation – and no plans to retire. “Right now, I enjoy what I do,” she said, “and I still feel motivated to practice and get better, and I still have some goals. I think time will tell where my future will go. . . . This is not a farewell tour by any means.”

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