2002: LPGA Tour

By CHUCK STOGEL

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Obviously, Annika Sorenstam doesn’t intimidate or dominate her rivals in the final round of an LPGA Tour event the way Tiger Woods does. With at least a share of or the outright lead heading into the final round, major or otherwise, Woods virtually is unbeatable.

Not so with Sorenstam, who nonetheless is the LPGA Tour’s career money leader and is 11th on the all-time victories list with 37 tournament titles. Last month she took a two-shot edge into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, only to be overtaken by Juli Inkster. That made her overall record 23-16 in the 39 events that she led or shared the lead in going into the final round.

Following Gloria Park’s victory July 28 at the Sybase Big Apple Classic, Sorenstam’s record is 23-17, which includes eight seconds, seven thirds and two sixth-place finishes.

Though her runner-up finish to Inkster at the Open was a defeat by a Hall of Famer, Sorenstam was outdone at the $950,000 Sybase event by a pair of relative unknowns – Gloria Park and Hee-Won Han.

Both Koreans tied at 14-under 270 after 72 holes of regulation at Wykagyl Country Club, with Sorenstam – a winner here in 1998 and 2000 – one shot back and out of a playoff.

The playoff, however, didn’t take long, as Park sank a 6-foot putt for birdie on the first extra hole to claim her second victory in three seasons on tour. The victory netted the 22-year-old Park $142,500 and vaulted her to 18th on the money list with $311,288.

Han, the rapidly improving 2001 LPGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year, pocketed $86,758 for second place. Sorenstam’s 271 netted $62,937 to boost her season-leading winnings to $1,911,991.

Karrie Webb, winner of 27 events but only one this season, closed with a weekend 66-67 for 272 and fourth place.

“I didn’t think of winning when the tournament started. Really, I just wanted to make the cut,” said Park, who earlier this year tied for third in the Takefuji Classic. “But my third round (a tournament record-tying 63) really put me in good position.”

After a sleepless Saturday night, which included an argument with her father and coach, Steven, about her putting, Park went out and registered five birdies en route to a 2-under 69 and the playoff victory. She led by as many as three shots in the final round and never relinquished at least a share of the lead. She was tied with Sorenstam after three rounds.

“I didn’t think about Annika (in the final round),” said Park, who grew up in Australia and never before had been paired with Sorenstam before. “I knew if I did, I would have trouble. I was concentrating more on my putting than who I was playing with.”

Han, who has missed only two cuts in 17 events this year and is 14th on the money list at $369,367, had five birdies in a final-round 67. “It was disappointing, but it’s encouraging too,” said Han, 24, a runner-up by one shot earlier this year in the Long Drugs Challenge. “I played well.”

She pulled into a tie with Park for the Sybase lead with a birdie at No. 15, then both players bogeyed the par-3 16th before parring in. “That three-putt for me on the 16th (from 50 feet) hurt,” said Han.

As for Sorenstam, who shot 7-under 64 in the third round and a 1-under 70 in the final round, she had only three bogeys over her final 36 holes. After losing her share of the lead, she made a late charge with three birdies in her final nine holes, but fell a stroke short.

“I had chances, but I felt like I was chasing all day,” said Sorenstam. “That’s not what I want (in a final round), but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

– Chuck Stogel is a free-lance writer based in New York.

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