Citing other priorities, Sorenstam to retire at end of season

CLIFTON, N.J. -- Annika Sorenstam ignored her notes and spoke from the heart. One of golf's greatest players was leaving the game, and she handled her retirement announcement the way she would a 10-foot birdie putt with the tournament on the line.

With command and composure.

Calling her decision one she'd "been thinking about for a while," Sorenstam said Tuesday she will retire after the season. The 37-year-old Swede ends an LPGA Tour career in which she has won 72 tournaments to date and delivered a defining moment when she teed it up against the men on the PGA Tour.

"I have made a decision to step away from competitive golf after this season," she said at the news conference, held at the site of this week's Sybase Classic. "Obviously this was a very difficult decision for me to make because I love this game so much. But it's the right one."

Her final event will be the Dubai Ladies Masters after the LPGA Tour season ends.

"I'm leaving the game on my terms," she said.

Tiger Woods called Sorenstam "the greatest female golfer of all time" and said it was sad to see her walk away from the game.

"It has been a pleasure watching Annika play for all of these years, but even more of an honor to call her a friend," he said.

Sorenstam brought notes with her but, for the most part, did not refer to them. She drew a parallel to Brett Favre, but was not overcome by emotion as the Green Bay Packers quarterback was when he announced his retirement in March.

"One of the things he said was that he loved the competition but not the daily grind," she said. "I feel the same way."

Sorenstam has hinted at retirement the past several seasons, saying she wanted to devote more time to her growing business and to start a family. She is engaged to Mike McGee, son of former PGA Tour player Jerry McGee.

"I respect Annika for wanting to go out on top," LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. "I'm surprised with the timing, but it's the way she wants to do it. In the long run, she'll have just as much of an impact outside the game of golf, if not more."

Even some LPGA players who know Sorenstam well were surprised at the news.

"It really is a shock," said Natalie Gulbis, who called Sorenstam her closest friend on the tour. "Life on the tour has always been special with her. Knowing she's not going to be out there is going to be a little different. Knowing Annika as well as I do, she'd love to have it end storybook, going out at No. 1."

The decision comes two days after Sorenstam won the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill by seven shots for her third victory of the season, and first against a field that included Lorena Ochoa.

The victory was a sign that Sorenstam had fully recovered from last season's injuries and was poised to make a strong bid at recapturing her stature as the best in women's golf.

"The win the other day was just a bonus, really," said Sorenstam, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Mets hosted the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night. "I had made this decision awhile back. I was almost at peace winning on Sunday, knowing what was going to happen here today."

Sorenstam dominated women's golf like few others, especially during a five-year period when she won 43 times and finished among the top three nearly 70 percent of the time. But for all her achievements -- the only woman to shoot 59, winning 10 majors and one of six women to complete the career Grand Slam -- she became most famous for testing herself against the men.

Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour when she played at the Colonial in 2003. She missed the cut, but earned worldwide respect for the way she comported herself amid massive scrutiny.

In 2001, in the second round of the Standard Register Ping in Phoenix, Sorenstam shot the lowest round in LPGA Tour history with a 13-under 59, becoming the first woman to break the 60 barrier, matching three men on the PGA Tour and two others on the Nike Tour in official competition.

During that round, she had 13 birdies, no bogeys and just 25 putts on the 6,459-yard course. She missed only one fairway, reached every green in regulation, and her longest par putt was 3½ feet.

In 2005, she showed her playful side, winning a bet with Fred Funk at the Skins Game in La Quinta, Calif.
Funk had told Sorenstam prior to the event that he would wear a skirt for an entire hole if she outdrove him.

She did just that, with a 278-yard drive that beat Funk's 271. From her bag, she brandished a pink, flowered skirt, which Funk wore over his pants, with the legs rolled up.

She won LPGA Tour player of the year a record eight times, including five straight seasons until Ochoa ended the streak in 2006. Sorenstam was ineffective most of 2007, the first time in 12 years she failed to win on the LPGA Tour, as she recovered from back and neck injuries.

She won the first tournament of this year in Hawaii, picked up a playoff victory in South Florida three weeks ago, then continued a slow rise in the world rankings toward Ochoa with a dominant victory in Virginia.

Sorenstam still faces a large deficit to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Ochoa, although LPGA Tour players measure themselves more on winning the money title and the points-based player of the year award. Those are easily within reach for Sorenstam with the season not even half over.

She said Ochoa's ascendance did not make her want to continue playing.

"Lorena is playing some fantastic golf, but that doesn't motive me to keep on going," she said. "I enjoy playing with Lorena. She's definitely taking the tour to a higher level. She was a lot of fun last week, and I think we're going to have more of those type of events in the coming months."

Sorenstam's 72 victories put her third on the tour's career list behind Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82). She is tied for fourth in career majors, five behind record-setter Patty Berg.

But those kind of marks never appealed to Sorenstam, even when she was winning at least 10 times during a season. She often talked about stopping sooner than people imagined to pursue other interests, whether that meant her affinity for cooking or fitness.

Sorenstam opened a golf academy last year near her home in Orlando, Fla., also launching her brand ("Annika") and a Web site. Sorenstam plans to marry next year.

"I'm just very happy with life," she said. "You start thinking, 'What else is more important in life, and what else do I want to achieve on the golf course?' It's been a year or so where I've just been very content and I felt like when I came back from the injury, I've proven to myself that I can do it and it's a special feeling."

She is not the first LPGA Tour star to retire early. Wright, whom many regard as the best, stopped playing a full schedule when she was 34 and won the last of her 82 tournaments at age 37.

At the end of the '07 season, Sorenstam believed she had arrived at "the back nine of my career."

"I've done a lot, and I'm satisfied in a lot of things," she said. "I've achieved so much more than I ever thought I could."