Remember the suspect short game Annika Sorenstam displayed at last month’s Bank of America Colonial? Well, all the questions are gone. Vanished. Disappeared in just two short weeks.
Vaporized into the Delaware air.
Sorenstam told us it was going to happen. She told us after missing the cut at Colonial that it was going to make her a better player. She told us it would make her work harder than ever on her weaknesses. She told us it would make her focus more on her LPGA goals, mostly the major championships.
She was right.
Sorenstam made four crucial up-and-down par saves in a six-hole span June 8 and held off hard-charging Grace Park in a playoff to win the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club, a venue where she had come up empty in eight previous tries. She shot 70-64-72-72 for a 6-under-par 278 total. She and Park (69-72-70-67) were the only two golfers to finish under par. Veterans Rosie Jones, Beth Daniel and Rachel Teske tied for third at even-par 284, a distant six strokes back.
The knock on the Swedish machine had been that of her 44 previous LPGA victories – including the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Chicago the previous week – only four were majors. But the McDonald’s victory made it five, leaving only the Weetabix Women’s British Open as the final piece to her career Grand Slam puzzle.
“I wanted this so badly, and I had the chance today and didn’t want to let it go,” said Sorenstam, who earned $240,000. “Nothing was going to stop me.”
Nothing did. Not dismal weather. Not difficult course conditions. Not a poor ball-striking day in which Sorenstam played 33 holes in 1 over par. No, not even Park – who played 32 holes in 6 under – could stop Sorenstam.
Rain drenched the course early in the week but the first two rounds were completed as scheduled. Tee times were moved up Saturday morning for the third round, but play was halted at 9:55 a.m. and canceled for the day at noon when it was evident the course could not handle more rain. Completion of the third round began at 7:30 a.m. Sunday and the final round began later that morning.
Sorenstam started the day tied with Hee-Won Han at 7 under. Park was tied for seventh, seven shots back with 14 holes left in her third round. After 54 holes, Sorenstam led Han (third-round 74) and Kate Golden by four strokes and Park and Kelli Kuehne by five.
Then the fireworks began.
Park, playing two groups ahead of Sorenstam, was 3 under par after seven holes and erased the five-shot deficit when Sorenstam made bogeys on two of the first five holes. Sorenstam regained her advantage when Park made double bogey on No. 8 and kept the lead as late as the 10th hole, until Park made eagle on No. 11 to again knot what had developed into a two-player race. When Park later made birdie on No. 17, it marked the first time in 37 holes that Sorenstam did not have at least a share of the lead.
An up-and-down birdie from a bunker on the par-5 16th again tied Sorenstam for the lead, then she parred the final two holes and first playoff hole, securing victory when Park failed to save par from the rough in front of the 18th green in the playoff.
Sorenstam withstood Park’s back-nine surge, getting up-and-down for par on Nos. 10, 11, 14 and 15, showing drastic improvement in her scrambling skills from her Colonial performance. It was there that Sorenstam had five three-putt bogeys and chipped poorly en route to shooting 5-over 145 to miss the cut. At the McDonald’s, it was clear how much short-game practice she’d had since, as she hit bunker shots to gimme range and converted par putts with relative ease.
“Earlier in the round, I had a nice comfortable lead and didn’t play very good at all,” Sorenstam said. “But down the stretch when I felt the heat, I hit the shots that were crucial at those times.”
Said Park, still looking for her first major championship: “I am proud of myself. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t play well in the playoff but I will always remember this. I played well under tough conditions on a tough golf course.”
The 24-year-old native of Korea has four career victories in four LPGA seasons, and has established herself as a weekly contender. She won the Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill last month and, with her McDonald’s performance, has four top-4 finishes this year. Park openly admits that she’s jealous of Sorenstam’s success and the spotlight that goes with it. She also said she is working harder on her game to keep up with the standards Sorenstam has set.
“She deserves all the attention,” Park said. “I just wish I was No. 1.”
That’s not all that made Park envious. When the final playoff putt dropped, a noticeably more animated Sorenstam performed a hop, skip and a jump in celebration and gave her caddie, Terry McNamara, a huge hug.
Standing alone, watching the festivities in the drizzling rain, Park put her thoughts clearly into perspective.
“It just sucked that it wasn’t me dancing,” she said.