Annika Sorenstam hadn’t played the LPGA Corning Classic since 1995, and last year she skipped the event to play in the PGA Tour’s Bank of America Colonial. This year, she made up for all of it.
Sorenstam shot 4-under-par 68 in the final round May 30 for an 18-under 270 total and her first Corning victory, sinking four back-nine birdies to win by two strokes over Michelle Estill (71) and Vicki Goetze-Ackerman (67).
She did so without even playing a practice round at Corning Country Club, a layout she hadn’t seen in nine years. The last time she played here was her second season, before she had won a single LPGA title. Her victory Sunday was her 51st.
“The biggest thing is that I felt support last year when I did play Colonial. Corning was very supportive,” said Sorenstam. “They said whatever is good for the LPGA is good for us, and I thought that was a great comment. That’s the way I was looking at the Colonial, too. Long-term, I always thought it was good for the LPGA.”
Her long-awaited return to Corning was good for Sorenstam, who won for the third time in six LPGA events. The $150,000 first-place prize put her back atop the LPGA money list. And she doesn’t plan to take as long for an encore appearance.
“I’ll be back. I should have been here sooner,” said Sorenstam, who was greeted warmly by galleries.
Estill and Goetze-Ackerman probably wish she had waited one more year. Both gave the world’s No. 1 player a fight, but couldn’t match her strong finish. Sorenstam began the day one shot back of Estill, and after making bogeys on Nos. 3 and 6, trailed the leader by four.
“I came to a point where I got totally frustrated with myself,” Sorenstam said. “Walking away with a bogey on 6 was maybe a turning point.”
Beginning with back-to-back birdies from 9 feet and 3 feet on Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, Sorenstam quickly found herself tied for the lead with Estill and Goetze-Ackerman, as Estill made bogeys on the eighth and 10th holes and Goetze-Ackerman, playing a group ahead, birdied No. 9.
Sorenstam took the lead for good with a 7-foot birdie at No. 14, then added another birdie at the 16th.
“Today was kind of a test,” said Estill, who hasn’t won on tour since her rookie year of 1991. “I had a great day. It was fun to battle with Annika out there and kind of keep up. It was fun to be in the hunt.”
“I haven’t been there a lot. I’m sure nobody was looking at me,” said Goetze-Ackerman, who lost a three-way playoff to Betsy King here four years ago and still is seeking her first tour victory. “I was hoping to sneak up.”
Against anybody but Sorenstam, maybe she could have.