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Se Ri Pak aiming for title defence

Se Ri Pak isn't getting greedy. She just wants to get better.

"Last year, I won five times. I want to win more this year, six or seven times, every year a little more," said Pak, who opens defense of her Office Depot Championship title on Friday in suburban Tarzana.

She's already won once this year, at Phoenix.

Last year's victory at El Caballero Country Club started Pak rolling to a fine season. She finished with five titles, including the LPGA Championship.

Although determined to improve, the 25-year-old from South Korea doesn't put too much pressure on herself. She's already been through that.

Her game is more consistent now, she said, because she's able to relax.

"It is different than a couple of years ago when I put a lot of pressure on myself," Pak said. "I was harder on myself and gave myself more stress, but now it is much more fun out there. My game has improved bigtime."

As one of the first Koreans to succeed on the LPGA Tour, Pak came under the microscope in her homeland. Expectations were particularly high because she won the LPGA Championship on her way to becoming the 1998 tour rookie of the year.

She slumped a bit in 2000, finishing no higher than third in any tournament. She felt the pressure mounting, particularly from the Korean media.

"It looked like I always have to play well, and everyone had so many different opinions: 'Why doesn't she play well? What, is she going out and to parties?' I try not to listen and try to work hard," she said. "I know what I'm doing and I have my goals, and sometimes I have bad days and bad years."

Pak is relieved some of the attention has been refocused on other Korean players, such as Grace Park.

"I can just be myself. A couple of years later, they realize how hard it is and they are more understanding now," she said.

Annika Sorenstam, who finished one shot back at El Caballero last year, said Pak's game keeps getting better and better.

"She's become a complete player. We've always known that she had talent, but last year she won five times and she's won a major almost every year," Sorenstam said. "She works very, very hard, and she's always been a good ball striker, but I think she's just shaping up her short game now."

Sorenstam said she enjoyed the tournament last year despite coming up short.

"I played well and it came down to the last few holes," she said. "I had a chance to win. It was exciting."

Sorenstam won 11 times last year and is looking for her first victory of 2003. She finished tied for third in the tournament won by Pak in Arizona, then was second to Patricia Meunier-Lebouc in the Kraft Nabisco, the year's first major.

"I think I'm working my way into tournament mode, playing and competing regularly. My first week was Phoenix, and then we had our first major right away. But I feel all the pieces are coming together," said Sorenstam, who will compete against the men at the PGA Tour's Colonial next month.

 

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