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Sorenstam aiming for title defence

Many people will be searching for eggs come Easter Sunday. Annika Sorenstam would prefer taking another dip in a greenside pond.

Sorenstam will try to defend her title at the $1.5 million Nabisco Championship, the first major championship of the LPGA season beginning Thursday at the Mission Hills Country Club.

The Swedish star won the third of four straight titles here last year, finishing with a 7-under-par 281 and a three-stroke victory over five players. Sorenstam was all wet afterwards, celebrating with a jump in a nearby lake.

Sorenstam will try to become the first player to capture the prestigious title in consecutive years.

"This is a different year and I've got some different goals,"

Sorenstam said. "But I'm as motivated, I'm as excited to play as I was last year and this really is one of the tournaments that means a lot to me."

But Sorenstam is winless in her last two starts -- both title defenses -- after opening the season with playoff wins in the Australian Ladies Masters and the Takefuji Classic.

Sorenstam lost a playoff two weeks ago to Australia's Rachel Teske in Phoenix and tied for seventh in last week's Circle K Championship in Tucson, Arizona.

Laura Diaz won her first career LPGA Tour title in Tucson, holding off Hall of Famer Juli Inkster for a one-stroke victory.

The win was a long time coming for Diaz, the 1998 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year who had four-runner-up finishes in 27 starts last season and finished ninth on the money list with over $750,000.

Diaz, who earned $120,000, is not short of confidence.

"I think that I have a long career ahead of me and whether I won after another after another, I don't care," Diaz said.

"When I retire, I want to be in the Hall of Fame. So whatever it takes to get there, however many wins in a row.

I am currently one step closer to that than I was last week."

Stiff competition for Sorenstam and Diaz could come from Karrie Webb, the 2000 winner of this event. She won her native Australian Open earlier this year and tied for fifth at the Circle K Championship.

The Nabisco Championships has a limited field of 92 golfers vying for the $225,000 first prize.

"It is an incredibly tough field here this week," Sorenstam said. "The best women golfers are here."

Meg Mallon, Laura Davies of Britain and Se Ri Pak of Korea can complete the LPGA career grand slam with a win this week, joining a list that includes Webb, Inkster, Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright and Pat Bradley.

At 24, Pak can become the youngest player in LPGA history to complete the career grand slam. Davies, who has 20 tournament wins, can earn the two points she needs to qualify for the Hall of Fame.

Lorie Kane, who lost to Sorenstam in a playoff at the Takefuji Classic, is looking for her first major championship win, as is 12-time tournament winner Sophie Gustafson of Sweden.

One golfer certain to gather attention is Nancy Lopez, who announced that the 2002 season will be her last on tour. But the Hall of Famer plans on playing in select events next year, and one will be here.

"The opportunity to play here at the Nabisco tournament is one that you want to do as long as you can," Lopez said. "So I will definitely try to be here every year still."

Lopez played in the tournament when it was known as the Colgate Dinah Shore. The event became a major in 1983.

The par-72 course measures 6,250 yards.


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