- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
LAST WEEK'S Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika had the potential to be a fun little turf war between the LPGA's two stars, No. 1 Lorena Ochoa and No. 2 Annika Sorenstam. But the 26-year-old Ochoa was a last-minute scratch as she flew to her native Mexico because of the death of an uncle. In her absence Sorenstam seemed strangely flat, shooting a birdieless 75 last Saturday and ultimately finishing 32nd, 10 strokes behind winner Seon Hwa Lee. � Sorenstam's struggles (she finished 11th at her previous outing, the Sybase Classic), questions about Ochoa's readiness and the reemergence of some big-time challengers have suddenly changed the complexion of this week's McDonald's LPGA Championship, the second major of the year. What once promised to be the Lorena and Annika Show now also features a supporting cast of would-be spoilers poised to steal a few headlines. To be sure, all eyes will be on Ochoa and Sorenstam when play begins at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md., but other top players are not ready to concede a thing. "That's fine. They can have all the attention," Suzann Pettersen says of the two women ahead of her in the world ranking. "That will make it easier for me to sneak up on them."
The 27-year-old Pettersen is the defending champ at the LPGA Championship and is probably the biggest threat to the Ochoenstam hegemony. Two weeks ago she set a Ladies European tour record by going 22 under at the Swiss Open, and she put on a ball-bashing clinic at the Ginn Tribute, leading the field in driving distance (268.5 yards) and finishing fifth in greens in regulation (79.7%). Pettersen never found the range on the slow, grainy greens at Charleston's RiverTowne Country Club, but she was undeterred by her tie for ninth. "I need to make a few minor adjustments to my [putting] technique, but that's easy," says Pettersen. "The key is that I'm feeling confident."
Karrie Webb left the Tribute with more conflicted emotions. Six back of leader Sophie Gustafson at the start of the final round, Webb reached the 72nd fairway a stroke behind Lee, who was watching from behind the green after a stellar 67 helped her make up 12 strokes on the woebegone Gustafson. (She shot a final-round 79 and tied for fourth.) Webb rifled her approach to 15 feet and then buried her curling birdie putt to force sudden death. Fifteen minutes later Webb had another birdie putt on the same green, a 25-footer for the victory. She left it 212 feet short and then, shockingly, yanked her par putt wide of the hole, handing a third career victory to the 22-year-old Lee. Afterward Webb was gutted but still looking forward to the next event. "I'll probably wake up tomorrow a little more encouraged than I feel right now," Webb said.
Not to be forgotten, Creamer, who finished 32nd, pronounced herself "very confident" for Bulle Rock. Only 21, she carries the heavy burden of being the best player on tour without a major championship, and Creamer has already said that she will not consider this year a success if she doesn't bag one. Because of the huge, undulating greens, she sees Bulle Rock as a second-shot course. "You have to be very precise with your irons," says Creamer. No wonder she's smiling—at the Tribute she was second in greens in regulation, hitting 84.7%.
And whither our two favorites? On Sunday, Sorenstam declared her game in "great shape," and she attributed her lackluster finish to the longtime lament that she didn't convert enough scoring opportunities.
As for Ochoa, it's hard to know how her emotional week will affect her, but her friend Pettersen has a hunch: "Knowing Lorena, she will play her heart out for [the memory of] her uncle and for her family."
That remains to be seen. A win for Ochoa would be good for the tour, kicking the Grand Slam hype into high gear. But her competitors are primed to make it a fight.
For scores, news and photos from the LPGA Championship, go to GOLF.com.