Originally created 08/07/03

Sorenstam returns home to play near Royal castle



STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Annika Sorenstam is back home, ready to play a course that is just a short drive from the royal palace where King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia live.

"It's going to be fun," Sorenstam said. "I think Drottningholm is one of the best courses in Sweden, but I haven't played there in 10 years."

Still, she will be the favorite Thursday when she opens defense of the HP Open, a Ladies European Tour event that was known as the Compaq Open when the world's top female golfer won it a year ago.

After completing a career Grand Slam by winning the British Open last week, Sorenstam has had a few hectic days since returning to her native Stockholm.

Her parents greeted the private jet at one of the city's two major airports, 15 minutes from Drottningholm. There were dinners with sponsors, news conferences, a golf outing with juniors and the pro-am. She also hit balls on five floating greens with Fredrik Jacobson, Sweden's top male golfer and a PGA Tour regular.

"I'll be focused as much as ever when I step on the first tee," said Sorenstam, who has not played in Stockholm since 1999. "I hope to play as well as last week. I'd love to play well in Sweden."

Sorenstam got a late tee time with fellow Swede Carin Koch and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, the Frenchwoman who won the first major of the year, the Nabisco Championship.

A big gallery is expected. The single-day attendance record for women's golf in Sweden is 21,000 - to see Sorenstam during last year's final round at Vasatorp Golf Club.

Drottningholm has a bit of history. Jack Nicklaus played there. So did Sam Snead and Seve Ballesteros. Fred Couples once five-putted the 18th green.

The par-72 course is 6,239 yards and should favor a long, straight hitter like Sorenstam. Six major winners - with a combined 14 majors between 1987 and 2003 - are competing.

The HP Open marks the final countdown to Europe's Solheim Cup selection in three weeks. The women's version of the Ryder Cup between defending champion United States will be played Sept. 12-14 at Barseback in southern Sweden.

England's Laura Davies, a former four-time major winner, is playing in Sweden and has clinched a spot. Also playing is Scotland's Mhairi McKay, who is back from playing in the United States. She is among the top seven automatic selections from the rankings.

Swedish captain Catrin Nilsmark will announce the team Aug. 26 in Stockholm.