Originally created 05/16/02

Undying Drive

Annika Sorenstam doesn't want to sound greedy or grandiose when she conceptualizes the perfect round.

She shot a 59 last year, something no other woman has ever done in organized competition. But even that astounding score didn't represent perfection - at least not in her eyes.

To Sorenstam, the 31-year-old Swede and favorite at the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship, the flawless round is five strokes better than 59.

When she was a 16-year-old player on the Swedish National Team, Sorenstam and her teammates concocted the perfect-round theory by questioning the concept of par and what was expected on each hole.

They came up with a 54. That's a birdie on all 18 holes.

"That was quite a few years ago," Sorenstam said Wednesday. "But it's something that I really believe in. I do think it's possible."

Given what she has accomplished so far, not even a 54 seems impossible. Sorenstam recorded eight victories last year and won her fourth Rolex Player of the Year award, and she became the first woman to surpass $2 million in one year. There was also the season scoring average, which she broke with a 69.42 clip.

Plenty would have been content to reflect on such a year with satisfaction, assuming that surpassing it - let alone replicating it - would be next to impossible.

Sorenstam's response heading into this season: Why can't I do better?

"I'm up for the challenge," she said. "Just tell me where and when and why - I'll be there."

Sorenstam's drive for 54 goes beyond the standard cliches of giving 100 percent and taking it one hole at a time. It defines her obsession with winning and her determination to be nothing other than the best golfer on the planet.

Tina Fischer, who won the inaugural event at Mount Vintage last year, said Sorenstam separates herself by finishing at or near the top almost every time out.

In seven starts this year, Sorenstam has three wins, two second-place finishes and six top 10s. Of the 24 rounds she has played, 12 have been in the 60s. She also leads the LPGA in scoring average (69.04).

"I think everybody is trying to find their own system to get closer to her standard," Fischer said. "There are a lot of players who are very, very good. But what makes her so good is her consistency. She hardly ever finishes out of the top 10."

This year's exception came two weeks ago at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship. Sorenstam finished tied for 59th in soggy conditions at Stockbridge, Ga., but she believes an asterisk should be attached because rain shortened the tournament to 36 holes.

She had the same reaction last year at Mount Vintage, when the inaugural event was shortened to 54 holes because of rain and fog. Sorenstam finished tied for fourth.

"I like to play four rounds," she said. "I think that brings out the best players."

Fischer said the sight of Sorenstam's name creeping up the leaderboard can be unnerving.

"We have a stunning golfer and an outstanding athlete," she said. "Obviously, when she is in the field, we all look for her on the leaderboard."

Four rounds brought out the best in Sorenstam last week, when she won the Aerus Electrolux USA Championship in Franklin, Tenn.

In firing a final-round 64, Sorenstam secured her 34th LPGA victory and her 12th career come-from-behind triumph. She came from two strokes back Sunday to beat Pat Hurst by a stroke.

The 64 tied Hurst's course record, but it didn't fit Sorenstam's definition of perfection.

Not much does. Not even a 59.

"Breaking 60 shows that if you don't set barriers, don't put limits on yourself, just go out and play, it shows what we can do," she said.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.


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