Sorenstam's long Tuesday-afternoon practice rounds, during which she regularly plays alone, often turned into four-hour therapy sessions, with caddie and player downloading to each other the state of their lives. "He's a great friend," Sorenstam says of McNamara. "We have a lot to talk about." For years the Sorenstam inner circle on the road consisted of Sorenstam, Esch and McNamara, boarding a private plane together one Sunday night after another, often with a trophy in hand; last year it became just caddie and player, sometimes just player.
Now Sorenstam is three tournaments and four months into the rest of her uncharted life. The divorce is taking its slow legal course and her relationship with Esch seems civilized. They are both members at the Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando and saw each other last week on the practice tee there, when Roger Cleveland, a Callaway club designer, was working with Sorenstam on a lob wedge he is making for her. In the meantime, Sorenstam is spending time with her younger sister, Charlotta, a struggling LPGA player; with old friends, most of whom have no connection to golf; and with newer ones, including Tiger Woods's Swedish wife, Elin. Annika and Elin recently went diving together and attended a NASDAQ 100 tennis match. Woods and Sorenstam, who share an agent, have been practicing and playing together at Isleworth, the Orlando development where Woods lives. Struggling with a certain bunker shot, a frustrated Woods gave Sorenstam his lob wedge, right out of his bag, and for more than a year now Sorenstam has been carrying 13 Callaway clubs and one made by Nike. "We have these little contests," Sorenstam says of her golf with Woods. "We'll say, 'Hit it here, hit it there, closest to the pin.' It's inspiring. I love watching him hit balls."
If Sorenstam wins this week, she'll have 60 career wins, tying her with Patty Berg, and the only LPGA players ahead of her will be Wright, with 82, and Whitworth, with her 88 (chart, left). Wright, with her picture-perfect swing, is widely regarded as the best woman player ever, achieving all she did in only 12 full seasons and parts of 14 others. ( Whitworth had 33 full seasons.) Wright, whose early retirement, incredible insight and complete withdrawal from professional golf made her as intriguing a figure as the game has ever produced, has never met Sorenstam, although they've exchanged letters. She's impressed with Sorenstam's determination, revealed to Wright by how dramatically Sorenstam changed her build, but less impressed with Sorenstam's competition. "She has everybody out there scared to death," Wright says, "which is a shame." Wright sees one player who is not intimidated by Sorenstam: Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old amateur from Hawaii, for now only an occasional LPGA visitor.
But Wie's father, B.J., says Michelle is not interested in taking on Annika. "Michelle has made it clear she wants to be a full-time PGA Tour player," he says. "Her impression of Annika is that she has extraordinary concentration. But she is not interested in being another Annika Sorenstam on the LPGA Tour. She has been watching Tiger."
Maybe someday Michelle Wie will go 5 for 5 on the PGA Tour, but until then, in the modern golfing pantheon, there's Tiger, there's Annika, there's Vijay--and that's really it. Everyone else is a work in progress.
All three are the same player, really, finding their answers in the dirt of the practice range, in the beeping heart monitors of their high-tech gyms and in the half foot between their ears. They'll let an outsider get only so close, and you can hardly blame them.
Nancy Lopez is prepared to see her piece of the consecutive-wins record fall this week. "But I'll always say mine was better," Lopez says, lightly. "I was a rookie, I was a baby, I didn't know what I was doing."
Annika knows what she is doing. ?
With a victory in this last week's Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill, Annika Sorenstam will not only break Nancy Lopez's record of five straight LPGA wins but also tie Patty Berg for third on the women's career victory list. �Here's how the winningest LPGA and PGA players stack up.