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The Amazing ANNIKA
Michael Bamberger
December 02, 2002
Showing her trademark toughness, Annika Sorenstam capped a brilliant year with a record-tying 13th win, at the ADT Championship
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December 02, 2002

The Amazing Annika

Showing her trademark toughness, Annika Sorenstam capped a brilliant year with a record-tying 13th win, at the ADT Championship

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The Lady and the Tiger
Annika Sorenstam is sure to win the LPGA's Player of the Year award, and Tiger Woods is a lock for the PGA Tour's. But who had the superior season? Here's how they match up in several key categories on their respective tours.

CATEGORY

SORENSTAM

WOODS

Tournaments

23

18

Wins (pct.)

11 (.478)

5 (.278)

Majors won

1

2

Top 10 finishes

20

13

Earnings

$2,863,904

$6,912,625

Pct. of purses won in events played

10.3%

8.2%

Scoring avg. (rank)

68.70 (1)

68.56 (1)

Final round avg.

68.86

67.71

Avg. victory margin

3.27

3.00

Cuts missed

1

0

Low round

62

63

It was the season finale, and Annika Sorenstam was running on empty. In October she had added two tournaments to her schedule, in Korea and Mobile, hell-bent on the idea of reaching 13 victories. The Swedish golfer loves numbers. She knows where the NASDAQ stands, the length of her average drive (265.6 yards) and the number of events the legendary Mickey Wright won in 1963 (13). No woman golfer has ever won more in a year.

Sorenstam came to the season's final tournament with 12 victories in 2002: 10 LPGA events, plus two in Europe. Twelve out of 24 events! (Wright played in 33 tournaments in '63, all LPGA stops.) Sorenstam is 32 years old, married, no children. She knows her clock—the clock of a driven athlete, the clock of a would-be mother—is ticking. She knows she can go this hard only so long. Next November (when she will have completed the required 10 tour seasons) she will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That is not enough for her. Sorenstam wants admission to the pantheon, alongside the likes of Kathy Whitworth, Jack Nicklaus and most especially Wright, who swung a golf club as beautifully as anybody who has ever played. For that, Sorenstam needed to do the extraordinary. She needed to win last week at the ADT Championship at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Nothing else would do.

Last chance. By late Sunday afternoon she had buried most of the competition, including Se Ri Pak, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster, all superb players, all winners of majors thus year. All that stood in her way were two holes and Rachel Teske, a two-time winner in '02. Pesky Teske. If Sorenstam had Teske's putting game, she'd be a golfing machine, truly. Tee to green, Sorenstam is a machine. She hits eight out of 10 fairways and eight out of 10 greens. Nobody in golf does that, not even Tiger Woods. She's Hogan, except she's pleasant.

The day had been gorgeous, and now the shadows were long. Sorenstam was in the penultimate group, with the elegant Patricia Meunier-Lebouc of Dijon, France. Teske was in the last pairing, with her fellow Aussie, Webb, who may be more talented than Sorenstam but by her own admission is less driven.

When it was done, Meunier-Lebouc, who trailed the leaders by five going into Sunday, said she knew the outcome before the day's first ball was hit, even though Sorenstam, tied with Webb, was behind Teske by a shot entering the final round. "Because she is so clear in the head, you know she will find a way to win," said the French golfer. Still, the shots had to be played.

Sorenstam does not make mental errors. She misses short putts, she occasionally hits shots off line, but her mistakes are typically in play. "It's not how good your good shots are," she says. "It's how good your bad shots are." Words to golf by. As she came off the tee on the 176-yard, par-3 7th, she heard a ball plunk into a pond. She looked up and realized immediately that Webb, trying to drive the green on the 335-yard, par-4 6th, had gone astray. Webb would make a 6 and never be in the hunt again.

By the time Sorenstam reached the 17th tee, you could see the strain of the year on her. She has been working out intensively for the past two years, and her body has changed. She has bulked up, becoming bigger from the waist down, much bigger in the upper arms. She's added 15 yards to her drives without losing any accuracy. The exhaustion on 17 wasn't her body giving out; it was mental fatigue from all the grinding she had done, on every shot, thousands of them over the course of the year, each played with the goal of making her mark on the game. It was in her eyes that she looked worn-out.

One more good one. She talks to herself often, sometimes in Swedish, when she's mad at herself, in English the rest of the time. The leader board over the 17th green showed Sorenstam at 12 under par through 16 and Teske at 11 under through 15, on a course where much can go wrong. The 17th is a par-3, the green surrounded by water, playing 169 yards on Sunday. That's a seven-iron for Sorenstam, with her new body. The click of club face and ball was perfect. The ball soared without curve and stopped three feet from the hole. She made the putt. Thirteen under. For Sorenstam on Sunday, 13 was a lucky number. Throughout the day she said to herself, Thirteen, 13, I've got to get my 13 wins. A par on 18 kept her at 13 under. Meanwhile, Teske blinked. After a birdie on 16 she made a 5 on 17, and with a par on the home hole she took second place, three shots back. The 30-year-old Teske has won six LPGA events, two of them particularly sweet—playoff victories over Sorenstam. She's competing against a legend in the making, and she knows it. When Annika won her 13th of the year back in '02, your grandmother was right there.

Sorenstam won the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in March. She finished first on the money list, with just over $2.86 million, and had the lowest scoring average, 68.70, breaking her own record from last year, when she won eight times. She has 42 LPGA victories, including four majors (two U.S. Opens and two Nabiscos). Her 11 LPGA wins this year match Wright's 11 in '64, tying her for second in the tour record book for victories in a year. It's staggering. It's continuing, for now.

"I want to see how good I can be," Sorenstam says. "My trainer says I am at only 70 percent of my maximum strength. I can play 2003 as hard as I played this year. I want to play 2004 as a Hall of Famer. After that, I don't know. I want to be a mother. I don't think I can be a mother and devote myself to golf the way I need to. I'm too competitive." One goal is to win 50 LPGA events. Nancy Lopez, who retired this year, won 48. Nancy Lopez is in the pantheon.

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