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Sorenstam deserves her shot against the men

All she did was win 13 times in 25 starts, including 11 times on the LPGA Tour, the best season in women's golf in nearly 40 years. In the process, Annika Sorenstam firmly established herself as the best female golfer in the world.

So who became the most important name in women's golf as this remarkable season came to a close?

Martha Burk.

Sad, really. And typical of the LPGA Tour.

The extraordinary achievements of Sorenstam in 2002 were largely overshadowed by Burk and her fight with Augusta National to invite a female member. In fact, many of Sorenstam's Hall of Fame exploits have been relegated to secondary status. If it wasn't Martha's tussle with Hootie, it was Tiger Woods, who has made his share of headlines, leaving Sorenstam in the wake.

Sorenstam finally stepped out of the shadows by saying she wants to play in a PGA Tour event.

Sorenstam deserves the chance. In fact, she should get the opportunity to become the first woman golfer in the modern era to play in a PGA Tour event before Suzy Whaley, the Connecticut teaching pro who is set to make that history in July at the Greater Harford Open.

Whaley qualified for the tournament by winning a PGA sectional event. But she played from a shorter set of tees, and it was obvious that nobody ever really considered the ramifications. Whaley will have to play the GHO from the same tees as the men, and she is not nearly as prepared for the scrutiny.

Sorenstam said if she got a chance to play with the men, she did not believe her performance would effect the perception people have about women golfers. In fact, Sorenstam said, maybe she could change it for the better.

"That (perception is there) anyway, without us playing against them,'' Sorenstam said. "Personally, I think it would be more beneficial if I played well. If not, I don't think it would change anything.''

A Sorenstam appearance in a PGA Tour event will be great for the game, great for the LPGA Tour. And perhaps it will take some of the focus off the Augusta debate, which is so damaging to golf.

When a woman is finally admitted to Augusta, the act will have very little impact on the masses. But Sorenstam playing with the men could be inspiring to young girl golfers, who truly have issues of access.

Sorenstam's presence in a PGA Tour event will be big news, front-page news. It will be a boost for the LPGA Tour. And the argument that a spot would be taken from a more deserving PGA Tour player? Well, it happens every week, when a sponsor's exemption is given to someone who doesn't have a spot in the field. That's what sponsor exemptions are all about.

"It's a very difficult thing to do, but if anyone can do it, I would never bet against Annika in anything,'' Laura Davies said at the LPGA Skins Game, where she played against Sorenstam over the weekend. "I think she'd make the cut comfortably.''

Davies knows something about this. A long hitter, she has played in several specialty events with men. Even for her, it was daunting.

"It's a little bit different pressure I found playing with the men,'' she said. "Not only are you playing a much harder golf course, but you're trying to justify being there, at least I was. I was trying to justify that I was teeing it up with the men from the back tees. That makes it a little harder.''

Nobody is suggesting this should be a trend-setting occurrence. Simply, this is Sorenstam, the best female golfer of our time, testing her game against the best. It will be fun to watch.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com