2005: LPGA - Still so much to prove

West Palm Beach, Fla.

Three years ago, we were lamenting the possibility of Annika Sorenstam retiring. Twenty-four victories and $7 million later, it all seems so absurd.

Sorenstam isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. She’s as dominant as ever, but surprisingly, still has so much to prove. Sure, Sorenstam has won 66 LPGA events (more than Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb combined), nine major championships (more than Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez and Meg Mallon combined) and $18,332,764 in career earnings (nearly $7.6 million more than anyone else), all of which is testament that she is the best women to have played the game. Yet, it’s the two things that elude her that will extend her career, giving us the honor of watching Sorenstam stroll the fairways for at least three more years, perhaps longer.

“A few years ago, things were looking a little different, and I had some different plans and different goals,” Sorenstam said at the ADT Championship, where she collected her 10th victory in 20 events in 2005. “Then it took a little bit of a spin, and I had to adjust, and here I am a few years later with a different outlook on life and some different goals at the moment.”

It’s not popular news to many on the LPGA, but Sorenstam’s quest for things never before accomplished will keep her active through at least 2008, making the odds exceedingly difficult for anyone else to collect multiple victories. Not only will the next 36 months give Sorenstam three more attempts at the Grand Slam and plenty of time to eclipse Kathy Whitworth’s record of 88 career victories, it will give her more time to toy with the next generation of superstars such as teenagers Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie. Don’t think for a moment Sorenstam won’t relish the cat-and-mouse game.

Sorenstam’s tiff with Creamer during the first round of the ADT Championship – in which the rookie questioned the veteran about rulings twice in the final three holes – proved that when Sorenstam is challenged, she becomes more dangerous. It also proved that Creamer cannot be intimidated, even by the person who has all the things Creamer desperately wants.

“Annika knows that there are people gunning for her,” Creamer said before their first-round showdown. “If she doesn’t, then . . . I don’t know what to say. There are just so many people that want it. I know that I want it really bad, and I know that I will do anything that I can to get me to the point where Annika is. She is just a couple of steps ahead of me. She is the No. 1 player in the world. She has what it takes.”

Sorenstam has had what it takes the past 11 years. She has topped the money list eight times and never finished worse than fourth. She has had what it takes the past five years by collecting more than $2 million in earnings each year, something no other woman has done. The $2,588,240 Sorenstam earned this year would have landed her 16th on the PGA Tour money list – behind Adam Scott and ahead of Scott Verplank.

When Sorenstam, 35, captured the ADT Championship last month at Trump International, it gave her 43 victories the past five years – one more than Se Ri Pak and Laura Davies have combined for in their careers. Sorenstam’s 66 career victories place her third on the all-time list behind Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82), who both needed much longer to accumulate victories against lesser competition.

Whitworth, with six major championships, collected her victories over 32 full seasons. Wright, a 13-time major champion, played on tour for 25 full seasons. Sorenstam just completed her 12th LPGA season and, at the current rate, could pass Whitworth in career victories by the middle of 2008.

“If you think of the last few years, then it’s realistic (to catch Whitworth),” Sorenstam said. “I don’t know if I can keep up the high level of golf. I need to do this for another three, four or five years. I don’t know if I could do that. One of the reasons is to push the body so hard. Another reason is, do I want to continue on this pace, that level, week after week?

“Obviously, I’m glad the pace hasn’t slowed. I’m enjoying this ride. It’s not easy. Sometimes I look back and I say, ‘How was I able to win nine or 10 this year?’ To me, it feels so unrealistic to get there.”

This season may not have had the sizzle of Sorenstam’s 11-win performance in 2002 or the spark of 2003, when she played against the men at the Colonial, but it was one of her best and most consistent performances.

After winning the first two majors, Sorenstam lost her bid for the Grand Slam at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she tied for 23rd, her worst finish of the year. She appeared to be weary, mentally drained and seemed to play with little motivation for a couple of months afterward. Then, with little fanfare, Sorenstam closed the season with victories in three of her final four events, including an eight-shot victory at the Samsung World Championship, where the world could talk only about the professional debut of the 16-year-old Wie, and later, her disqualification.

And all of this came during a year in which Sorenstam battled emotions stemming from the end of her eight-year marriage. Not a simple task.

“I haven’t looked at this year and ranked it myself yet,” Sorenstam said. “But this year has been special in its own ways. Yes, I won a lot of tournaments. But I just feel like it’s been a good year (considering) everything that I’ve gone through the last year. It’s not just about the victories anymore.

“It’s not my best year, but it’s probably maybe top four for sure. I don’t know, I’m so spoiled (with good) years.”

So are we.

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