Sorenstam caps off her year in style

Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Annika Sorenstam was determined at the start and dominant to the end.

Playing her best golf when she had nothing left to give, Sorenstam won her 11th tournament Sunday in the ADT Championship, a fitting finish to the best season on the LPGA Tour in 38 years.

''I had a chance to do something incredible, and I didn't want to let that go,'' she said.

With a risky shot on the toughest hole at Trump International and a clutch swing on the decisive par-3 17th, Sorenstam closed with a 4-under 68 for a three-stroke victory over Rachel Teske in the final tournament of the year.

Last year, Sorenstam won eight times, became the first woman to shoot 59 and the first on the LPGA Tour to earn more than $2 million in a season.

What an encore!

''I was determined to prove I could do it again, or even better,'' Sorenstam said.

She was at her best Sunday when she wanted to quit, emotionally spent from winning so much, physically tired from working harder than anyone in the game.

What kept her going was knowing she had only three holes left, a one-shot lead and a chance to win her 13th tournament worldwide.

''I could almost taste the trophy,'' Sorenstam said.

From the left rough on No. 16, she hit a 7-iron under a tree and just over the water to the back of the peninsula green, from where she saved par by putting with a fairway metal. Then, she hit a 7-iron to 5 feet for a birdie.

That turned into a three-stroke lead when Teske, playing in the group behind her, hit a 5-iron into the hazard on No. 17 and wound up with a double bogey.

''I was either going to win it or not,'' Teske said. ''I beat myself.''

Teske hit her tee shot into the water on No. 18 but salvaged a par for a 72.

Sorenstam finished at 13-under 275 for a three-stroke victory and earned $215,000, making her the first woman to go over $11 million in career earnings.

She ended the season with a 68.70 scoring average, shattering the record she set last year (69.42) and finishing more than a full stroke ahead of Se Ri Pak.

''I'm at a loss for words,'' Sorenstam said. ''I gave it all I had.''

She has done that all year, starting with a victory in Hawaii eight months ago, never going more than three tournaments without winning.

Mickey Wright in 1964 was the last player to win 11 times in one season. Wright, widely regarded as the best female golfer ever, set the record of 13 victories in 1963.

Sorenstam can claim part of that. Along with her 11 wins on the LPGA Tour, she also won the Australian Ladies Masters and the Compaq Swedish Open. That gives her 13 victories worldwide in just 25 starts, the best winning percentage since Wright won 10 times in 17 events in 1961.

''I feel like I'm walking on clouds,'' Sorenstam said. ''Life is nice. It's going my way.''

It wasn't as easy as the three-stroke margin might seem.

Sorenstam was caught in a terrific duel on the back nine when Teske holed out from 10th fairway for eagle, and Sorenstam chunked a chip on the par-5 12th hole to make bogey.

Both gave up the lead with bogeys, only to bounce back with birdies.

The turning point came at No. 16, when Sorenstam hit 7-iron under the trees when a mistake could have led to bogey or worse.

Teske also birdied the 16th, but she was playing so deliberately that by the time she made her 15-foot putt, Sorenstam already had birdied the 17th.

Teske's 5-iron sailed right into the hazard, well down a steep hill of shin-high rough. She chipped onto the green, but three-putted for double bogey.

The only other player who had the lead Sunday was defending champion Karrie Webb, who seized control early -- and lost it just as quickly.

Webb recovered from hitting into the hazard on the par-5 third with a short birdie putt on the next hole, leaving Webb, Teske and Sorenstam tied at 10 under.

The defending champion became an also-ran in a matter of two swings.

First, Webb flubbed a shot on No. 5, advancing the ball only 6 feet on her 30-foot chip and making bogey. Then, she tried to drive the green over water on No. 6, and the ball drifted right and into the water.

''ARRRGGGHH!'' Webb screamed out in frustration. That led to a double bogey, dropped her three strokes out of the lead, and she was never a factor the rest of the day.

The only consolation for Webb: She birdied the 18th to shoot 74 and finish alone in third, making her the fifth LPGA player this year to surpass $1 million.

Webb and everyone else is still miles behind Sorenstam, who won for the 42nd time in a career that began just nine years ago.

What kind of goals will she set next year?

''I'm sure I can come up with some,'' Sorenstam said.

Divots: Trump International has signed on for another year to be host of the LPGA's version of the Tour Championship. ... Sorenstam fell short of one record this year. She needed three rounds in the 60s to break Kelly Robbins record of 46 sub-70 rounds set in 1997. ... The starter went through a long list of accomplishments while introducing Juli Inkster: winner of 27 tournaments, U.S. Women's Open champion, member of the Hall of Fame. ''Please welcome ... Beth Daniel,'' he said. Inkster turned and laughed with the rest of the gallery. ... Daniel has played in the last two ADT Championships at Trump International, and her best score is a 73. Her scoring average over eight rounds is 76.4.

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