Major milestone: Sorenstam wins Nabisco

Associated Press
Sunday, March 25

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- On the back of Annika Sorenstam's visor was a 59, visible to all and a reminder of what she did only last week. Under the bill was something more private, a message she wrote to herself as she chased another bit of golf history.

Written in Swedish, it loosely translated into "Don't be afraid. Just go for it."

 Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam heads for Champions Lake after winning the Nabisco Championship for the first time.
Glancing upward at her visor instead of looking at the scoreboards, Sorenstam followed her words of wisdom Sunday, shooting a methodical 3-under 69 to and win the Nabisco Championship for her first major title since 1996.

A final 25-footer that dropped into the center of the cup on the 18th hole gave Sorenstam a three-shot win, capping a remarkable three weeks of golf that put her in the record books and firmly established her once again as the reigning star of women's golf.

"I don't know why all this is happening to me but I'm very, very thankful," said an emotional Sorenstam, who was wrapped in a champion's robe after the obligatory plunge into Champions Lake surrounding the 18th green.

"This is what a golfer can dream about and I'm the lucky one. I can't believe it, it's just a dream come true."

Sorenstam was showered in champagne by her sister, Charlotta, and husband, David Esch, before she walked toward the water and went in face first with a push from her sister.

She emerged from the murky water to throw her visor into the crowd in a celebration of the win in the one major championship she had so coveted.

"All winter at home I practiced my putting thinking 'This is the one that will win the Nabisco Championship,' " Sorenstam said. "These are the fantasies you have and mine came true."

Sorenstam hit 17 of 18 greens on the final day -- after hitting them all in regulation a day before -- to overcome third-round leader Rachel Teske and then Pat Hurst to win a major title for the first time since the 1996 U.S. Women's Open.

It was a display of control and patience that, for Sorenstam, ranked right up there with the 59 last week that was the first ever shot by a woman in competition.

"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, who had made a habit of shooting herself out of contention in majors with bad first rounds, finished with rounds of 72-70-70-69 for a 7-under 281 and her third straight win. It was the first time since Kathy Whitworth did it 30 years ago that a woman has won three straight with the final one being a major championship.

A handful of players all had their chances, but once Sorenstam took the outright lead for the first time in the tournament when Hurst bogeyed the 10th hole, no one made enough back nine birdies to challenge.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, kept hitting green after green and, even after making her lone back nine mistake with a three-putt on 12, came back to birdie the next hole.

"I don't think I've ever been so patient, which was the key this week," she said.

Teske, Janice Moodie, Karrie Webb, Akiko Fukushima and Dottie Pepper tied for second, three shots back.

"Obviously Annika has stepped it up a notch," said Webb, the 2000 champion who shot a 69 but was not able to gain ground.

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 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 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 Teske on the front nine and then past a fading Hurst, who led by two at one point on the front nine but finished five back after a final round 74.

"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, 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."

Teske, who was contending in a major for the first time, played well, as did Fukushima. But neither could make any birdies coming down the stretch. Teske had just one bogey to go with 17 pars.

"When Annika's on you just have to play better than her, and it's tough to do," Teske said.

That may have something to do with the messages she writes on her visor that help stoke the fire within.

"I am very, very stubborn," Sorenstam said. "And I am very competitive."

  • In 20 rounds so far this year, Sorenstam is 69-under par.

  • Aree Song Wongluekiet got the best of her twin sister once again. The 14-year-old shot a final round 74 for a 297 total, while her sister had a 77 and finished at 300. Aree finished 10th last year as a 13-year-old, while her sister did not make the cut.

  • The low amateur was Lorena Ochoa, a Mexican amateur star who attends the University of Arizona. Ochoa had a 73 to finish at 2-over 290.

  • Donna Caponi, a 24-time winner while on tour, appears on her way to the LPGA Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame veteran's committee met during the Nabisco Championship and nominated Caponi for membership. The nomination will go to a mail-in vote of players before Caponi can be officially inducted. Caponi, who won four majors, retired in 1988 and is now an analyst for The Golf Channel.

    Nabisco Championship final-round scores

    2001 Nabisco Championship


    Annika Sorenstam comments on winning Sunday's Nabisco Championship.
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