Originally created 06/13/05

Sorenstam halfway home to slam



HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Annika Sorenstam is making the Grand Slam look like a slam dunk.

Never threatened from the start, sloppy at the end when it no longer mattered, Sorenstam took another step toward a sweep of the four majors Sunday by closing with a 1-over 73 for a three-shot victory over Michelle Wie in the LPGA Championship.

Sorenstam became the first LPGA Tour player in 19 years to get halfway home to a Grand Slam, and no one has any reason to believe she won't win the next two.

First came an eight-shot victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March. This one was just as dominant, with Sorenstam building an eight-shot lead at the turn and leaving everyone else in a hopeless pursuit.

"You are witnessing one of the greatest runs of any athlete in any sport at any time," LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said.

Sorenstam finished at 11-under 277 and earned $270,000, pushing her career total to more than $17 million. Since playing in the Colonial on the PGA Tour two years ago, she has won 19 of her 38 events on the LPGA Tour.

"I'm just overwhelmed," she said. "To stand here and hold the trophy is all that matters."

Her only competition came from a 15-year-old who just finished the 10th grade and is learning how to drive.

Wie gave another big crowd at Bulle Rock a glimpse of the future with a 3-under 69 to finish in second place, the highest finish by an amateur in a major since 20-year-old Jenny Chuasiriporn lost in a playoff to Se Ri Pak in the 1998 U.S. Women's Open.

Ultimately, that's what the final round was all about - who was going to finish second.

Sorenstam was greeted with the applause for champions when she walked onto the first tee with a five-shot lead. It was up to six shots by the second hole, and the tournament was effectively over at the par-3 third.

The green is perched up in the trees, some 150 yards away from the gallery, and all they could see was Sorenstam keeping her head down even after as she stroked her 20-foot putt, not looking up until it was in the hole.

It was a fitting environment for Sorenstam, because no one is close to her in the game.

The next stop is the U.S. Women's Open in two weeks at Cherry Hills outside Denver, the biggest major of the year and one that has eluded Sorenstam since she won in 1995 and 1996 at the onset of her career.

At this point, it looks like a mere formality.

"I'd love to see her do it," Nancy Lopez said. "I'd like to see some players make her work for it."

Pat Bradley was the last woman to win the first two majors of the year in 1986, and she tied for fifth in the U.S. Women's Open that year at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. Bradley then won the last major of the year.

Mickey Wright also won the first two majors in 1961.

Arnold Palmer first cooked up the notion of a professional Grand Slam on his way to the 1960 British Open. Since then, the only other men to get halfway to the slam were Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and Tiger Woods in 2002.

"There's nothing we can do to stop her," Angela Stanford said. "She's playing her own game. It's not like we can play defense or offense. We just have to go out and play our best."

Sorenstam wasn't perfect. She again made a mess of the par 5s, playing them in 3- over par for the week. And her record streak of 14 consecutive rounds under par ended with Sunday pedestrian round. She finished it by hitting her tee shot into the gallery, pitching back to the fairway and two-putting for bogey.

No matter.

She won for the sixth time in eight starts this year, and she joined Patty Berg as the only LPGA players to win the same major three consecutive years. Berg won the Titleholders from 1937-39.

Paula Creamer, the 18-year-old who just graduated high school, closed with a 67 to pick up valuable Solheim Cup points. She tied for third at 6-under 282 with Laura Davies (71), who again showed her entertainment value by rattling off birdies and giving them back with a double bogey.

Natalie Gulbis rallied after a rugged start for a 73 and finished another shot back with Lorena Ochoa (72).

Wie, the first amateur at the McDonald's LPGA Championship in its 51-year history, provided quite a show on the back nine with back-to-back birdies and an array of shots beyond her years. Along with a big drive that helped her reached the par-5 15th in two for a birdie, she saved par with a nifty pitch that trickled onto the green at the 14th.

This was her second top 5 in a major, having finished four at the Kraft Nabisco last year. But just like everyone else, she had no chance to catch Sorenstam. Wie's only hope was that Sorenstam didn't sign her card.

"One can only hope," she said with a laugh.

Some players were riled that qualifications were changed to allow Wie into the field, but her amateur status was worth an extra $36,000 to Creamer and Davies because Wie cannot accept prize money.

Sorenstam now has nine majors - same as Woods, who goes for the second leg of his Grand Slam next week in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. It was her 62nd career victory on the LPGA Tour, two more than Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster combined. The LPGA record is 88 by Kathy Whitworth, which comes into view each week.

But all that matters to Sorenstam now is the Grand Slam. She is halfway there, and miles ahead of everyone else.