Sorenstam caps remarkable streak

Wins Nabisco Championship

Posted: Monday, March 26, 2001

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Annika Sorenstam didn't need to be spectacular, just steady. It wasn't as exciting as shooting a 59, but in the end it felt just as good.

Sorenstam finished off a 3-under-par 69 with a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Nabisco Championship, capping a remarkable streak of golf with her first major since winning her second straight U.S. Open title in 1996.

It was the third win in a row for Sorenstam, who only last week became the first woman to shoot 59 in competition. But it was easily her biggest win in a tournament she wanted desperately to win.

''I didn't shoot 59 this week but under the circumstances on this golf course this really ranks up there with the 59,'' Sorenstam said. ''It's a dream come true.''

Sorenstam was showered with champagne by her sister, Charlotta, and husband, David Esch, then took the traditional celebration dive into the pond circling the 18th before donning a white robe with ''Nabisco champion'' written on the back.

''I don't know why all this is happening to me, but I'm very, very thankful,'' an emotional Sorenstam said. ''This is what golfers dream about and I'm the lucky one.''

Luck didn't play that much of a factor, though. It takes more than luck to hit 35 of 36 greens on the weekend of a major, including 17 on the final day.

Sorenstam came from a shot behind to emerge from a crowded leaderboard and win the $225,000 first prize by three shots over Karrie Webb, Dottie Pepper, Janice Moodie, Rachel Teske and Akiko Fukushima.

Sorenstam took all the suspense out of the finishing par-5 by laying up in front of the pond in two and then hitting a wedge shot to 25 feet. She needed just to three-putt to win, but made the downhiller instead before leaping into the arms of her caddie in joy.

A week after going into the golf record books, Sorenstam made history of another sort by becoming the first woman to win a major championship for her third win in a row since Kathy Whitworth in 1971.

A day earlier, she pleaded exhaustion and said she hoped she had one good round left in her.

She did, hitting every green but the third and shooting her best score of the tournament to move past third-round leader Teske on the front nine and then past a fading Pat Hurst to take the outright lead for good with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th.

''She did play flawless,'' said Teske, who played in the final group with the winner.

Her third win in as many weeks capped a whirlwind three weeks of golf for Sorenstam, whose only two previous major titles came in the 1995 and 1996 U.S. Women's Opens. In that stretch, she won three tournaments, a major title and shot a 59. Sorenstam was relentless on a steamy day in the desert, emerging from a crowded pack of leaders to take command of the tournament on the back nine. She made a mistake by three-putting the 12th for bogey, but came back with an iron within 12 feet on the next hole and promptly made the putt to go back up by two shots.

After hitting her tee shot onto the green on the par-3 17th, Sorenstam allowed herself a grin of relief, perhaps knowing that all she had to do was bogey 18 to win.

Sorenstam, who finished second in her only other two tournaments this year besides her wins, kept alive a streak for the LPGA -- no American player has won on the women's tour this year.

That was a source of irritation to Pepper, a two-time champion here who was in contention all day but could not make the putts to win.

''I'm really tired of that question,'' Pepper said. ''I'm playing the best golf of my career and I'm an American. I'm ready to rock.''



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