Annika Sorenstam impressed a lot of people with her runner-up performance at the Skins Game, and the three guys she competed against are at the top of that list.
She really surprised partners Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara with how far and straight she hit the ball. Annika is a wonderful ball-striker and has the type of accuracy we haven't seen in a long time, maybe going back to Lee Trevino in his heyday. Every one of her iron shots was right at the hole; it was just a matter of whether they were the right length.
As I mentioned on ESPN.com last week, the key for Sorenstam was to be consistent and keep it in play, and she did a great job at that. She gave herself a lot of birdie opportunities and made a few pay off: She made a long putt for birdie on the fourth hole after Mickelson had made one, then again on the 10th to win her fifth and final skin of the competition.
And let's not forget her dramatic moment Saturday. She pulled off one of the greatest shots in Skins Game history on the day's final hole, sinking a 39-yard chip from a bunker for eagle to win four skins and $175,000. It was really unbelievable. It was a very, very difficult shot, and when she hit it the fans went nuts. The telecast couldn't capture the buzz and excitement following that shot. The place really went bonkers.
Everyone was more relaxed on Saturday. On Sunday, when the stakes increased, the players didn't talk as much. When Sorenstam won the first skin of the day with a birdie on the 10th hole, that really increased the pressure on the other three guys.
She was clearly in control early Sunday, and the other guys might have been trying too hard to catch up. We saw some short putts missed and Mickelson drive it into trouble (he had to pick up his ball on two of the first three holes of the day), they were really grinding out there. But once Couples made a long putt at the 14th to win four skins and take the lead from Sorenstam, the other guys settled back into their games a bit.
And once they were back in the groove, the level of play really elevated down the stretch. All four hit some great shots on the last five holes of regulation and the four playoff holes. Of the last nine holes overall, seven were won with birdies. All four missed makeable birdie putts on first playoff hole, but that was because there was a really difficult flag location on an awkward part of the 18th green.
After O'Meara and Sorenstam were eliminated on the second playoff hole (guaranteeing Couples his record fourth title), Mickelson and Couples played three great holes of golf. Both birdied the par-3 17th and par-5 18th, and then Couples ended it by hitting a 20-footer back at 17.
It was a very entertaining Skins Game. They all had fun, and that's what this silly season staple is all about. The more fun the players have, the better television it makes for the fans, and that's exactly what we came out with.
This also sets up a very intriguing Skins Game for next year. We all understand Tiger Woods is coming back to play. They'll invite Vijay Singh again (he reportedly turned down an invitation this year) because he's the reigning money title champ, and there's a great chance Sorenstam will get invited back. Add defending champion Couples to that mix, and you're left with some pretty compelling storylines, particularly because of the comments Singh made about Sorenstam playing in the Colonial. Stay tuned ...
Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN and ABC, and followed the Skins Game foursome at Trilogy GC on Saturday and Sunday.