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Sorestam set on season's first major

Annika Sorenstam already owns one magic number, the 59 she shot to make women's golf history. Now she's got another number to shoot for in the first major of the season.

Fresh off the record-setting 59, Sorenstam begins play Thursday in the Nabisco Championship with the number three on her mind.

That's three, as in three tournament victories in a row. And three, as in three career major titles.

Sorenstam figures to have both if she can keep up the pace that has seen her win twice and finish second the other two times she has teed it up for real this year.

``This is the tournament I've been waiting for,'' Sorenstam said. ``Now that it's here, I'm really excited about it.''

That could be bad news for the other 95 players, who have found themselves shaking their heads in wonder at what Sorenstam has done on the golf course in only four tournaments.

The 59, of course, was historic. Three male golfers have shot it in competition, but Sorenstam became the first woman to do so when she made 13 birdies and five pars last Friday in Phoenix.

Sorenstam celebrates her historic round of 59. Allsport.

When Sorenstam walked off the Mission Hills resort course Wednesday after a practice round, fans wanted her to add 59 to the autographs she was signing.

``It's only two shots (better then the previous record), but it's so much more than two shots,'' Sorenstam said. ``I can't describe the difference.''

Sorenstam's other rounds haven't been too shabby, either. Sorenstam is 50 under for her last eight rounds, and a total of 62 under for the year. Her scoring average is 67.57, nearly a stroke better than the 68.53 of Se Ri Pak and nearly three shots better than defending Nabisco champion Karrie Webb.

The explanation for her play? Simple enough. Always a very good ball striker, Sorenstam is now making the putts to go along with it.

``I'm hitting a lot of good shots, but now I'm making the putts, too,'' she said. ``Now, I look forward to going up to a green and making a putt. Before, I didn't want to go up there because I knew what would happen.''

Sorenstam said she was emotionally drained from the 59 and her back-to-back wins, and needed a few days to rest to get ready for the Nabisco, the first of four majors for the women pros.

She appeared refreshed and ready Wednesday, though, energized by a tournament she has desperately wanted to win since finishing a stroke behind Patty Sheehan in 1996.

Sorenstam, on the verge of dominating the LPGA Tour before the arrival of Karrie Webb, has not won a major since taking her second straight U.S. Open in 1996. She blames the drought on her overeagerness to try and win the majors on a Thursday instead of waiting to be in contention on Sunday.

``It's almost like being in the starting blocks and I go too early,'' she said. ``I have to wait until the starter's gun.''

Sorenstam gets a chance to set the pace Thursday, with an early tee time nearly three hours before Webb.

Webb is the defending champion, but is winless in six tournaments this year with a scoring average of 70.38, nearly 3 shots behind Sorenstam's 67.57.

``I know in my mind there is not time to beat myself up over not having the same year as the last two years,'' Webb said. ``When you are there and everything seems all right. then you think that nothing can go wrong.''

That's precisely the feeling Sorenstam has had this year, with her remarkable start. Far from being jealous, though, Webb said she was happy that Sorenstam managed to reach the magical 59 mark.

``It is really great for women's golf, and the press we got last week was huge,'' Webb said. ``I know that a lot was talked about it and a lot was spoken about it. It is great that someone was able to do it.''

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