Sorenstam cruising at first major of year

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Annika Sorenstam was on the back nine of her Saturday runaway when a marshal's loud command for the quiet crowd to get even quieter forced her to back off her ball just as she was set to hit.

Sorenstam's caddie admonished the marshal, but Sorenstam wasn't bothered.

''That's OK,'' she told the marshal. ''I'm happy.''

Bad marshaling aside, Sorenstam had a lot to be happy about in the third round of the Nabisco Championship. She didn't make a bogey, finished with a 6-under 66 and built a five-stroke lead over Rosie Jones going into the final round.

In doing so, the most dominant player in women's golf all but wrapped up the first major championship of the year while setting herself up for another entry into the LPGA record books.

''Just a great day for me out there,'' Sorenstam said.

Sorenstam, of course, has been having a lot of great days lately. But Saturday's third round was among the best as she seemingly put a lock on both her record tying fifth straight win and the first of a possible four major titles this year.

Sorenstam finished five shots ahead of Jones, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Only two other players are closer than 10 shots behind, and Sorenstam is an intimidating presence on top of the leaderboard.

About all she has left is an 18-hole stroll on Sunday and the ceremonial winner's jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green.

''She's the last person you want to have a five-shot lead,'' Jones said.

Sorenstam birdied four holes on the front nine and two on the back to shoot the lowest score of the week on the Mission Hills Country Club course. She did it without getting into any serious difficulty on a day when light breezes and warm temperatures offered ideal scoring conditions.

There's 18 holes left to play Sunday, but that figures to be a mere formality. Sorenstam doesn't give up leads easily, and no one in the field has shown they have the game to challenge her.

Jones, in her final year on tour, birdied the final hole to shoot 71 and inch a shot closer, but the only other players within even a sniff of the lead were Mi-Hyun Kim and Cristie Kerr at seven shots back.

About the only excitement left on the final day may be how artistically Sorenstam takes the traditional winner's jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green. She's likely to do well at that too, since she's had practice by winning here twice in the last four years.

Sorenstam has gotten better every day, with an opening 70 followed by a second-round 69 before Saturday's 66. She's hitting the ball long, not making mistakes and may be playing the best golf of her extraordinary career.

''This is probably as good golf as I've played on a consistent level for a long time,'' she said.

Assuming Sorenstam wins Sunday she will tie the record set by Nancy Lopez in 1978 of winning five consecutive events she played in. Lopez was dominant in her time, too, but Sorenstam is accomplishing things that Lopez never dreamed about.

A win Sunday would not only give Sorenstam a start toward doing something no other female golfer has ever done — win all four majors in one year — but would be the 59th of her career, a number Sorenstam is quite familiar with.

''Tomorrow I want to have a day like I did today,'' she said.

Sorenstam didn't take long to separate herself from the pack on a day when the temperature got into the 80s and the course played fast. She started the day tied at 5 under with Jones, but promptly birdied the second and third holes and was on her way.

Playing in the final threesome with Jones and Mi-Hyun Kim, Sorenstam regularly drove the ball 60 yards past her competitors. While they were hitting fairway woods to the longer par-4s, she was hitting short irons.

The 387-yard 15th hole was a classic example. Jones had to hit a fairway wood as did Kim, and they both hit them about as well as they could, finishing 15 to 18 feet from the hole. Sorenstam, meanwhile, had a pitching wedge from the right side of the fairway and knocked it to 3 feet for her final birdie of the day.

Sorenstam had to make a few 4-5 footers on the back nine for pars, the final one on the 17th hole after her putt from the fringe went past. But that was about as bad as it got on a day when she split fairways and hit all but two greens.

''Annika executed everything just perfectly,'' Jones said. ''She just played really well.''

The Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Lee Westwood and Joe Durant ordinarily would be in ideal position at The Players Championship, tied for the lead and likely in the last group to tee off Sunday afternoon.

All that got them was rest in what continued to shape up as a bizarre week.

Thirty players who thought they were going to resume the second round Saturday morning instead had to erase their scores and start over so everyone could lift, clean and place their balls in the soggy fairways.

Durant tied the back-nine record with a 30 for a 7-under 65, while Westwood overcame a double bogey early in his round for a 69 that left them atop the leaderboard when darkness suspended the second round.

Seventy-one players, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, were expected to return at 7:30 a.m. Sunday to finish the second round. That all but assured the third Monday finish in The Players Championship in the last six years, and that's assuming more rain doesn't push it to Tuesday.

Westwood and Durant get to sleep in, knowing that their two-day score of 10-under 134 will put them in good shape. Zach Johnson made two double bogeys, including a tee shot into the water on the 18th hole, for a 2-under 70 that left him one shot behind.

Others who finished were defending champion Adam Scott (68) and Fred Funk (72), who were at 7-under 137. Steve Jones, who opened with a 64 and then waited 50 hours before hitting another shot, also was at 10 under halfway through his second round.

Indonesia Open

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Frankie Minoza was 8 under through 14 holes in the rain-suspended third round of the Indonesia Open, leaving the 45-year-old Filipino star just a stroke out of the lead and in position to take a run at a 59.

Minoza, the 1986 and 1990 winner, needs to play the final four holes in 3 under Sunday morning to become the first player to break 60 on the PGA European Tour and Asian Tour. However, a sub-60 round would not count in the record books because players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairways.

Minoza chipped in from 30 yards for an eagle on the par-5 ninth and also had eight birdies and a bogey to reach 14 under. Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant was the leader at 15 under with nine holes remaining in his third round. Thailand's Jaidee Thongchai, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts and Singapore's Mardan Mamat joined Minoza at 14 under. Jaidee finished 11 holes, and Colsaerts and Mamat played nine.

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