2005: LPGA - In new setting, familiar face rises to top

Huixquilucan, Mexico

Annika Sorenstam arrived at the MasterCard Classic looking forward to a new season and hoping to find solace on the golf course. After a hectic offseason in which she filed for divorce from David Esch, Sorenstam said that she plans to make golf an even bigger part of her life.

That’s a frightening thought considering that golf already is a bigger part of Sorenstam’s life than it is for any other LPGA player. She already practices harder, is in better shape and has more determination than anyone else on tour. Now, with plans to begin a family on hold, the world’s No. 1 player seemingly has fewer distractions than ever. Watch out, world.

“I am just going to focus on my golf a little bit more than usual,” Sorenstam, 34, said earlier in the week. “I still want to be a mother one of these days, so hopefully that time will come. Right now I am trying to look forward and for good things to happen.”

Three days later, they did. Sorenstam shot 70-71-68 for a 7-under-par 209 total March 6 to capture the inaugural MasterCard Classic at hilly Bosque Real Country Club.

The victory, worth $180,000, was the Swede’s sixth in her past eight events and marked the third time in the last four years that she won her first event of the season. Sorenstam’s career victory total is now 57, one shy of Louise Suggs for fourth on the all-time list.

“I think she’s doing good for everything that she’s gone through,” said Terry McNamara, Sorenstam’s caddie. “Annika cares about life, she cared about her marriage.

“It has to hurt her some, but time is going to heal all that. In the meantime, she’s awful good at focusing when she needs to.”

Sorenstam needed that focus during the final round as scoring conditions were the toughest of the week. Only 11 players shot below par on a course that sits 7,400 feet above sea level and used 15 shuttles to alleviate the stress of players and caddies walking. (Christina Kim described Bosque Real best when she said: “It’s visually stunning, but it probably wasn’t created with walking golfers in mind.”)

Cristie Kerr, looking to improve upon a second-place tie with Michelle Wie a week earlier in Hawaii, held the second round lead by two over Sae-Hee Son and Moira Dunn and by three over Sorenstam.

That lead, however, quickly evaporated when Sorenstam made five consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-6. Sorenstam followed with bogeys on Nos. 7-9, but gained momentum with a birdie on 10 and cruised to a three-shot victory over Karrie Webb. Kerr shot a final-round 75 and tied for third at 213 with first-round leader Hee-Won Han.

“I never had the mental focus you need to play well under tough conditions,” Kerr said. “I didn’t play well, it’s plain and simple.”

That certainly wasn’t the case with Webb, who was coming off a come-from-behind victory at the Australian Ladies Masters Feb. 27.

At the MasterCard Classic, Webb (71-71-70) joined Sorenstam as the only two players to shoot three sub-par rounds. Birdies on 16 and 17, two of Bosque Real’s most difficult holes, assured Webb a solo second.

“I struggled a little bit with feeling comfortable out there but I shot my best score of the week today,” Webb said. “I’m pretty happy with second place.”

Overshadowing Sorenstam for much of the week was Lorena Ochoa, the 23-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, who dazzled the large galleries for 54 holes in the country’s first LPGA event in 30 years. If it weren’t for a second-round stretch where Ochoa made four consecutive bogeys (Nos. 14-17), she would have had a chance to keep the trophy in Mexico. Still, an Ochoa birdie from 12 feet on the final hole Sunday sent her compatriots into a frenzy.

“I wouldn’t change this day for anything,” said Ochoa, who shot a final-round 68 and finished fifth. “This was something very special.”

In the end, all eyes were on Sorenstam, just as they will be for most of the season as she attempts to win the Grand Slam by winning all four major championships. It was her lone goal last season – she managed only a victory at the McDonald’s LPGA – and is one of her two main goals this year.

The other is to win the Vare Trophy, given annually to the player with the lowest scoring average. Although Sorenstam has had the lowest scoring average each of the past two years, she failed to play enough rounds (70) to be eligible for the award. (The last time she won was in 2002.) This year, Sorenstam plans to add at least two more tournaments to her schedule in hopes of collecting her sixth Vare Trophy.

After Sorenstam’s MasterCard performance, there is no reason to believe she won’t.

“I could not have asked for a better start,” Sorenstam said. “I practiced quite a bit this winter. It shows already that I’m playing the way I want to play. The fire and the motivation are still there.”

And they don’t appear to be fading anytime soon.













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