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December 08, 1997
Who's No. 1? Take Three Guesses
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December 08, 1997

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Who's No. 1? Take Three Guesses

Normally this time of year is used to weigh the merits of the candidates for the player of the year awards. However, Hale Irwin, Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods so thoroughly dominated their respective tours that any discussion is superfluous. A debate can be conducted, though, over which of the three players of the year is the most dominant golfer.

Based solely on their performance in the majors this year, Woods, who won the Masters by a record 12 strokes, and Irwin, who won the PGA Seniors, would have an edge on the majorless Sorenstam. Also, Woods's overall impact on the game, and Irwin's nine victories, are impossible to ignore. Still, the argument for Sorenstam is a compelling one.

For starters, Sorenstam marked her turf two weeks ago at the LPGA Tour Championship in Las Vegas, where she won in a playoff over Lorie Kane and Pat Hurst. Irwin and Woods failed to make similar statements at their Tour Championships. Despite a second-place finish at Myrtle Beach, Irwin ended up ceding the spotlight to winner Gil Morgan (who finished ahead of Irwin in four of the Senior tour's five biggest tournaments). Woods failed to put an exclamation point on a year that went mostly downhill after his Western Open victory in July, finishing 12th in the season finale in Houston. "You have to beat the best to be considered the best," Sorenstam correctly pointed out in Las Vegas, "and the Tour Championship is the place to do it."

That's as much of a boast as you will hear from Sorenstam, whose sustained excellence over the past three seasons (12 victories, including back-to-back U.S. Open titles in '95 and '96, and 42 top 10 finishes) is the best reason to call her today's most dominant player. This year she came within .04 of a stroke of repeating a feat she pulled off in 1995, winning the LPGA's triple crown: player of the year, money title and lowest scoring average. (Karrie Webb, at 70.00, had the lowest.) "In '95 everything just kind of happened, and I went along with it," says Sorenstam. "This year I felt like I had mastered the game so much more."

Sorenstam, at 27, figures to be at the center of plenty more "who's best" debates in the future. "I'm not thinking about that yet," she says. "I just want to enjoy [the Las Vegas win]. What can I say? I guess it's been my year."

She was talking about the LPGA tour but could have just as easily meant all of golf.

Arizona Coach Finds Job Doubly Rewarding

LSU track coach Pat Henry is the only person to have led men's and women's teams in the same sport from the same school to Division I titles in the same year. Next spring, however, Arizona golf coach Rick LaRose could match his feat. LaRose's men's team is currently ranked first in the country. His women's team is second, despite the fact that since late September it has been without 1996 and '97 college player of the year Marisa Baena, who has been sidelined by a shoulder injury. Both teams have already won two tournaments.

The 51-year-old LaRose took over the men's program in 1978 and led the Wildcats to the NCAA title in '92. He became the women's coach just before Christmas in 1994, when Kim Haddow was hired away by Florida. With the program in disarray (no recruits had committed during the early signing period, and the team was ranked 31st), Arizona's athletic director, Jim Livengood, called LaRose into his office to ask for guidance. "The girls deserved somebody who cared," LaRose says. "So I offered to take over."

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