2006: Border run for Annika
Natalie Gulbis had just shot a 6-under-par 66 to pull within a shot of the lead, but she knew her first LPGA victory wouldn’t come on this day. After missing a pair of 15-foot birdie tries on the final two holes at the MasterCard Classic, she packed up and headed to the airport with nary a look back at Bosque Real Country Club.
“Come on, it’s Annika Sorenstam,” said Gulbis, who was convinced the world’s No. 1 player wouldn’t falter over the final holes March 12.
Of course, Sorenstam didn’t. It doesn’t seem to matter how many months she has taken off, what country she’s playing in or how many young players say they’re ready to challenge her throne. The Swede simply keeps on winning.
In her first individual stroke-play event since the ADT Championship last fall, Sorenstam started with a 5-under 67, then caught fire late in the final round to win her 67th LPGA title by a shot over Helen Alfredsson (67) and rookie Seon Hwa Lee (70). It was the third consecutive year Sorenstam has won her season opener, sending notice right from the start that she expects yet another year to belong to her.
Shooting even par and tied for the lead after the first nine Sunday, Sorenstam reeled off three birdies in four holes from Nos. 12-15 for some breathing room and her 11th victory in her past 21 LPGA events. She missed a short putt for par on No. 18 but tapped in for a final-round 70, an 8-under 208 total and her second consecutive victory in this event – the 21st time she successfully has defended a title.
“It is all about getting the job done,” Sorenstam said. “This is what I came for.”
Eyes on Ochoa: The week in her home country was again a bittersweet one for Lorena Ochoa, who shot
74-70-74 to tie for 34th at 2-over 218. That was a stroke worse than Sophia Sheridan, a University of California senior and, like Ochoa, a native of Guadalajara. Sheridan shot 2-under 70 Sunday to tie for 27th at 1 over.
The 24-year-old Ochoa, who was followed by hundreds of fans all week, has three LPGA victories, but trips south of the border have not been kind to Mexico’s most famous golfer. She came from behind to finish fifth at the MasterCard Classic in 2005 and was never close to the leaders at the Corona Morelia Championship.
“I didn’t play the way I wanted to play, but I think this was a wonderful week,” said Ochoa, who said she was much more relaxed this year than last. “I had a really good time. I enjoy very much playing here in my country. It was a great experience. . . . This is like a major for me so I learned a lot.”
Last year, none of the eight Mexican sponsor exemptions made the cut. This year, three of the eight did, led by Sheridan. Fellow amateurs Devan Andersen (T-67) and Tanya Dergal (70th) also reached the final round.
Short shots: Paula Creamer and
Mi Hyun Kim began the final round tied with Sorenstam, but could manage only even-par 72s. . . . Because of Bosque Real’s hilly terrain and long distances between holes, players and caddies used carts for the first time in tour history in an effort to speed play. “I prefer walking, but then again this course is very tough to walk,” Sorenstam said after Round 1. “I think using carts was the right thing to do. . . . For the first six or seven holes, I couldn’t really find a rhythm, but then in the end it was fine.” The carts likely helped prevent a suspension in Round 2, when frost delayed play for a half-hour prior to the start of the round. The last groups finished just as dusk was falling.
Seon Hwa Lee’s second runner-up finish in a row left the 20-year-old rookie, last year’s Futures Tour No. 1 earner, as the LPGA’s leading money winner after three events with $210,050. In all, six rookies finished in the top 20, including a tie for seventh by Katie Futcher and a tie for 15th by Virada Nirapathpongporn. Each shot a final-round 66. . . . Add Sorenstam to the growing list of players who believe the new Rolex Women’s World Rankings need an overhaul. “I definitely think it needs to be tweaked a little bit,” she said. “They need to have more than 15 events (as the minimum). That does not display how well you play throughout the year. It needs to change to 30 events. I’m sure the LPGA will figure it out, and in a few months we will have a very accurate system.”
– Staff and wire reports
On the tee
Next up: Kraft Nabisco Championship, March 30-April 2, Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, Calif. Defending champion: Annika Sorenstam.