WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Even the best player in the world needs a break now and then. Annika Sorenstam is happy to know hers is coming up soon.
But first, a trip to California where she'll play against the men again. When she tees it up next weekend against Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples, she'll become the first woman to play in the Skins Game, the made-for-TV event that is often one of the most-watched golf shows outside of the men's majors.
"That's real important for me," she said. "I want to be sure I'm 100 percent for it."
Those were somewhat surprising words from Sorenstam, considering they came on Saturday, after she had played herself into the lead at the season-ending ADT Championship, a tournament she wanted to win to write a perfect final chapter to her most intriguing year.
But she lost by a stroke and cited exhaustion as a main reason for squandering the lead. She also gave credit to Meg Mallon, who overtook her and got the last victory in this, the Year of Annika.
To Sorenstam, there is important, and there is Important, and in a year in which she made history by playing against the guys at the Colonial, clearly she wants to put on a good show when she tees it up with the men again next weekend.
"I'm going to be tired, but you don't get a chance to play in a skins game very often with the guys," she said. "It's only nine holes Saturday and nine holes Sunday. I hope I can handle that."
As for her performance against the women this year - pretty impressive, as usual. She led the LPGA Tour with six wins, won her sixth player of the year award and won her sixth money title. She was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame on Monday.
Some critics might say she's declining. She did, after all, win 13 events worldwide in 2002.
But Annika - she's pretty well known just as "Annika" now - made it about more than just winning against the women this year. Her decision to accept the invitation to play at the PGA Tour's Colonial sparked debate, controversy and generally captured the golf world's imagination for a magical few days in May.
"You cannot have any conversation about 2003 without starting off with the contributions and accomplishments and awareness that have been generated as a result of Annika Sorenstam and what she has done this year," LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said.
Votaw is hoping he'll find more stars like Sorenstam to continue beefing up fan and sponsorship interest in a tour that has been on the margins for years.
He says it's a good thing that most of the talked-about moments in "The Year of the Woman," in golf came in men's events. Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies, Suzy Whaley and Se Ri Pak were among those who made news by playing against the guys.
"I think it doesn't marginalize the LPGA," Votaw said. "In fact, we're helping some other men's events with the star power of our players by having them play in those events."
There is no bigger star than Sorenstam.
Soon, she will get some much-needed time to rest and mull over this whirlwind 2003 season.
The last official tournament of the year came on the heels of a trip to Singapore for another skins game, where she wound up with a case of pinkeye, a bad dose of jet lag and realized, especially as her lead was slipping away on the final day, that exhaustion can do bad things even to the best of games.
Has she enjoyed the year? Of course.
"But I need to recharge my batteries," she said. "I think any professional golfer would like to have this year. It's just that sometimes it's been so long that I don't think I'm able to enjoy it as much as I really should."
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