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Sorenstam in sight of Lopez record

Nancy Lopez knew she was at the end of her amazing run when she stood over a putt at the Lady Keystone Open in 1978 with only one thing in mind -- how badly she wanted a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

So concluded the greatest winning streak in LPGA Tour history.

"I just couldn't concentrate that week,'' Lopez said with easy laughter, looking back on a record she figured would last a lot longer than 23 years.

Lopez won five straight tournaments over 38 days, one of them a major championship. Three of her victims were headed for the Hall of Fame. Twice she had to come from behind on the last day.

"The competition was very good,'' Lopez said, rattling off the names of JoAnne Carner, Donna Caponi, and Amy Alcott. "It was top golf, and you had to play well to win. Probably the depth wasn't there like it is now, so for somebody else to win five in a row ... I didn't think it was possible.''

Then again, Annika Sorenstam has done a lot of things no one imagined.

A month ago, she became the first woman to shoot 59, during the second round of the Standard Register Ping in Phoenix. On Saturday, she recorded the greatest comeback in women's golf, starting the final round 10 strokes behind and winning The Office Depot hosted by Amy Alcott in a playoff with help from an unseemly collapse by Pat Hurst.

"It's got to be destiny,'' Sorenstam said.

The super Swede must wonder if destiny is on her side when she goes to the Longs Drugs Challenge this week outside Sacramento, Calif., with a chance to win her fifth straight tournament and match Lopez's mark.

Lopez never shot a 59. She never started a final round 10 strokes behind and held up a trophy at the end of the day. But she can relate to a 30-year-old Swede with a graceful swing who is in control of her game and her sport.

"Seeing her play the way she has, it looks so easy,'' Lopez said Monday night. "I remember how easy it was for me during that time I played so well. Every shot seemed to go down the middle of the fairway. Every time I stepped up to a putt, I knew I was going to make it. I never got my feathers ruffled. It was a lot of fun.''

Sorenstam knows the feeling, although it did not come easily.

A year ago, she was fast becoming forgotten in the wake left by Karrie Webb. The 25-year-old Aussie swept player of the year and the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average for the second straight season, and had won three of the past five majors.

"I watched her win majors, win the money list, and I realized that's what I wanted to do,'' Sorenstam said. "She pushed me.''

Sorenstam dedicated herself to practice like never before, doubling the amount of time she spent chipping and putting. She started her season with two runner-up finishes in Hawaii, then won in Tucson, Ariz., and hasn't slowed down.

"I don't want to ruin this,'' Sorenstam said. "I don't know what's happening, but everything is going my way.''

The real test comes this week, not from the Twelve Bridges Golf Club as much from the pressure of playing in a fish bowl.

It's a nice problem to have on the LPGA Tour.

Annika Sorenstam with her "59" ball. Allsport.

Sorenstam shot her 59 the same week Tiger Woods won his first tournament of the year at Bay Hill. She won the Nabisco Championship, her first major in five years, the same week Woods won The Players Championship.

Having swept the four majors with his victory in The Masters, Woods is on a four-week hiatus from competition.

Sorenstam has the stage to herself.

Whether she faces the same burden as Lopez -- and embraces it -- remains to be seen.

Only about 30 people, two-thirds of them family and friends, watched "Mrs. 59'' in the first round at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles last week as she set out to become only the fifth woman to win four straight tournaments.

Lopez needed a security detail nearly that large during her streak. Fans mobbed her for autographs. It got so bad at one point that Lopez asked her caddie to sit outside her hotel room to make sure no one had followed her.

Media coverage got more intense with each victory, and Lopez loved it.

"I had a special relationship with the press,'' she said. "I felt like they were a part of me becoming who I was because they wanted to write about me, and they made me bigger than I felt I was. As a woman, I was fighting for many years to get noticed. I was finally getting recognition, and I wanted it to keep going.''

She would like nothing more than for Sorenstam to keep it going.

"I thought the 59 was pretty great, but it's passed now,'' Lopez said. "People will always remember five in a row.''


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