2004: Sorenstam makes it a nifty 50

Los Angeles

Annika Sorenstam said before the Office Depot Championship that her disappointing tie for 13th at the previous week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship – the LPGA’s first major of 2004 – wouldn’t affect the rest of her season.

Then she went out and proved it, making birdies on three of her last five holes April 4 for a final-round 69 and a three-stroke victory over Ashli Bunch (65) and Meg Mallon (70) at El Caballero Country Club.

It may not have been a major, but the triumph marked a milestone for Sorenstam – her 50th LPGA victory, making her the sixth player to reach the mark and the first to do so in 35 years. She accomplished the feat in 10 years, three months, 19 days – second only to Mickey Wright (eight years, eight months, 21 days). Kathy Whitworth, the last player to reach the 50 mark in 1969, holds the LPGA record with 88 career titles.

“Fifty is kind of a magical number,” Sorenstam said. “I’ve thought about this for a while. I really wanted to do it this week.

“Teeing off, I was nervous and my caddie (Terry McNamara) said he felt the same way. Then on the second hole, he said, ‘That just shows we care.’ ”

Sorenstam, who also won this event in 2001 and 2003 (she was runner-up in 2002), finished at 9-under 207. She led all three days, although Bunch tied her at the top briefly in the final round.

Bunch, winless since joining the tour in 1999, trailed by seven strokes at the start of the day, but pulled even at 6 under late in the round. Bunch just missed a birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given her the lead as Sorenstam was finishing the 13th hole.

Bunch’s performance got Sorenstam’s attention. “I felt the heat and thought that I’ve got to do something,” said Sorenstam, who found her putting stroke down the stretch.

She sank a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to go to 7 under, then made another 12-footer for birdie on No. 16 and added a tap-in birdie on No. 17.

Bunch, 28, finished 83rd and missed the cut, respectively, in her first two starts this season. Her career-best finish had been a tie for fourth at the 1999 Welch’s/Circle K Championship.

“To be honest, I didn’t tee it up thinking I could win the tournament,” Bunch said. “I knew I could pass a lot of people, but my husband (Michael, also her caddie) said last night that Annika is going to be tough to beat.”

It seems that will still be the case in 2004, even though Sorenstam was disappointed by her Kraft Nabisco finish after starting the season with the goal of a Grand Slam.

“The reason I set four majors as my goal is that it’s something that’s never been achieved and that’s what keeps me motivated: to do something I’ve never done,” Sorenstam said before the Office Depot first round. “I’m disappointed about that, but I have to move on. Now I want to win three majors.”

– Staff and wire reports

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