2002: Divine nine

Vallejo, Calif.

Cristie Kerr held her own for two full rounds and another 17 holes with Annika Sorenstam. The last 19 holes were a different story.

Kerr held a one-stroke lead over Sorenstam after two rounds of the Samsung World Championship, and led the world’s No. 1 player by two shots heading to No. 18 in the third round. But the Swedish superstar blitzed Kerr and the rest of the elite 20-player field with a flawless final-round 65 for a six-stroke victory Oct. 6 at Hiddenbrooke Golf Club.

Sorenstam used a final-hole birdie and Kerr’s final-hole bogey Saturday to pull into a tie for the overnight lead. The two players were paired for both of the final two rounds.

“That’s not a good way to end a round,” Kerr said after Saturday’s round. “But when you bogey the first hole, you don’t think about it. So I’m just not going to worry about it.”

Maybe she should have.

The two players picked up Sunday where they left off the day before – Sorenstam birdied the first hole and Kerr double-bogeyed No. 1, then bogeyed No. 2 – for a sudden, stunning turnaround that ended most of the suspense early.

Sorenstam’s bogey-free final round left her with a 22-under 266 total, shattering the previous tournament record of 14 under that had been accomplished four times, the last time by Juli Inkster in 2000. It was her fourth consecutive victory in an individual tournament, following triumphs at the Compaq Open in Sweden, the Williams Championship and the Safeway Classic.

“I think I’m playing even better now (than last year),” said Sorenstam, who became only the 10th LPGA player to reach 40 victories – the first since Nancy Lopez in 1989. “I wanted to beat my record of last year, and here I am.”

Kerr recovered from her rocky beginning to birdie four of her final 11 holes and finish at 1-under 71 for a 16-under total. First-round leader Michele Redman eagled the last hole for a 68 to finish third at 15 under. Se Ri Pak (70) and Rosie Jones (71) tied for fourth at 13 under.

Kerr earned her first career victory earlier this year with a one-stroke triumph at the Longs Drugs Challenge, where her final-round challengers were Hee-Won Han, Heather Bowie and Jane Crafter. But her final-round playing partner in that April event was the 46-year-old Crafter – a player who hadn’t won in 12 years – not the cool and intimidating Sorenstam, who wasn’t entered in the Longs event.

“I’ve got a machine coming after me,” Kerr said before the third round. “Week in and week out, she sets the pace.”

On Sunday, Kerr hit her first tee shot right into a bunker, then bladed her second shot – an attempted lay-up – into a creek in front of the green. Her double bogey dropped her to 13 under as Sorenstam was rolling in a birdie putt to go to 16 under. Kerr bogeyed the next hole as well, and Sorenstam made birdies on Nos. 5, 7 and 9 to move to 19 under, four shots ahead.

“I just had a terrible start,” Kerr said. “It wasn’t mental and it wasn’t the pressure. I struggled with my swing early. I needed to play tip-top golf today, and I didn’t. . . . But I am proud of the way I hung in there.”

Jones was Sorenstam’s closest pursuer until a triple bogey on No. 12 dropped her to 12 under.

Sorenstam birdied 13 and 15, then finished with a 4-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

– Staff and wire reports

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