WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The ADT Championship, the extremely entertaining season-ending event for the LPGA that offers a $1 million first prize and a measly $100,000 for second place, cleared a hurdle that tripped up the HSBC Women's World Match Play earlier this year -- a lot of big names made it to the weekend, the notable exception being Annika Sorenstam. The Match Play lost the nine top seeds before Saturday, prompting HSBC to convert the event to stroke play for 2008 -- and take it to Singapore as the women's game continues to chase the plentiful Asian golf dollars.
There will be no sponsors messing with this event. For the second consecutive year it had a compelling playoff to advance to the weekend. In 2006, six players played off after 36 holes for three spots. This year, the high-profile threesome of Sorenstam, Natalie Gulbis and Ai Miyazato played off for two spots with the Swede being the odd woman out.
On the first playoff hole -- the par-3 17th -- all three made testy par putts in the five-foot range to extend the layoff. But on the difficult 18th, which bends around water on the right side of the fairway, Gulbis and Miyazato both hit the green in regulation while Sorenstam, making another of the kind of mistakes she never used to make, pulled her shot into the left bunker. Her next shot from the fluffy sand ended on the fringe 14 feet above the hole, from which she missed. Sorenstam was eliminated when Miyazato made a five-foot par save.
It ended the first year since 1994 in which Sorenstam has failed to win an LPGA event.
Sorenstam's round Friday, in which she shot 73 with a quadruple-bogey, was a microcosm of her season. She made three birdies in the first six holes then made a 7 on the par-3 eighth hole when she sliced a 4-iron into the water then, after drawing a hanging lie in the rough following her penalty drop, shanked her second shot in the water. Consistency has been an issue in Sorenstam's injury-plagued season. Time and again, when it seemed as if she would get on a round on a run, or a tournament, a killing mistake would pop up.
"You get stabbed in the back with something, even though it is your own fault and you go from so high to so low in the matter of 10 minutes," Sorenstam said about her quadruple-bogey. "Yesterday I had three balls in the water, today I had two."
Also erratic this year has been her putting, which failed to bail her out when she needed it. If not for a short miss on No. 16 in regulation she could have avoided the playoff.
Beside Sorenstam, the biggest name eliminated after 36 holes was Se Ri Pak. Among those advancing were Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Pettersen, who have won seven and five LPGA events respectively, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Juli Inkster, Sophie Gustafson, Mi Hyun Kim, Nicole Castrale, Karrie Webb, Christina Kim, Seon-Hwa Lee, Catriona Matthew and Sarah Lee.
All 16 of those advancing will get their scores erased and start all over on Saturday, with eight advancing to Sunday's finale round. That's a change from last year when scores were reset only once -- after 54 holes. This year they will be reset after 36 holes and again after 54, leaving eight players starting at even-par in pursuit of the $1 million first prize. In another twist designed to create more intrigue -- and guarantee attendance at the Saturday night party -- the eight advancing to Sunday's final will draw for tee times. The best score after 54 holes gets first pick for which of the four the times she wants. Players who don't show up for the draw get the last available tee time.
Unlike the FedEx Cup, which extends playoff drama over four weeks, the ADT Championship compresses it into four days. There are some players -- make that quite a few players -- who don't like the $900,000 difference between first and second place, feeling that is too severe of a punishment for what could be a one-stroke loss. But it is exactly that drama that gives this event its identity.
While it seems odd that the goal of the first two days is to finish 16th and Saturday's mission is to be no worse that eighth, that's part of the charm of this tournament. And with the quality of the players that advanced, it seems certain that Sunday will be a scintillating shootout for a million bucks.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.