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Sorenstam centre of attraction at Solheim

Annika Sorenstam found out at Colonial what it's like to be the center of attention at a golf tournament.

She knows all about pressure, too.

Sorenstam won the LPGA Championship in a playoff, and she came up with a clutch tee shot on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that led to a one-shot victory in the Women's British Open and gave her the career Grand Slam.

She should be prepared for a combination of everything this week at the Solheim Cup, the showcase event in women's golf being played for the first time in her native country.

"I wouldn't say I feel any extra pressure, but I do feel a little more excited," Sorenstam said Wednesday after playing 18 holes in the rain at Barseback Golf & Country Club.

"I know the crowds are going to be huge. I know they'll be supportive. And I think that makes for a great week and a great championship."

The matches between the United States and Europe begin Friday on the southwestern coast of Sweden.

The Americans won last year in Minnesota and lead the series 5-2. They are led by Juli Inkster, an emotional player with seven majors, and veterans Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel.

Europe offers Sorenstam, who has shattered one barrier after another in golf -- the only 59 in LPGA Tour history, the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.

Joining her is Carin Koch, a Swede who is unbeaten in this competition, and Laura Davies of England, the big hitter who has played in every Solheim Cup.

Europe also has the crowd in a big way.

The Solheim Cup is a sellout, with some 30,000 people expected to cram onto the course along the Straits of Oresund to watch four matches at a time the first two days.

"We feel like we're the underdogs because we're not on our home field," Mallon said. "We've won one over here in Wales, and there was maybe four or five of us on that team. So, we remember what that took to do. It's very difficult to win on the other side of the pond. We've got a lot of work to do this week."

Making it even tougher is a gallery from a golf-crazed country like Sweden.

"They're very fiery people," said Inkster, who has played a Ladies European Tour event in Sweden. "They're going to be very loud. They're going to be singing a lot of songs. It's going to be a great experience, but it's going to be tough."

Most of the gallery will be focused on Sorenstam.

She has ruled women's golf for the last three years, setting two dozen records one year, breaking them again the next year and putting the sport on the front pages with her gritty performance at Colonial, where she missed the cut with rounds of 71-74.

The question is whether that attention gives her a boost, the way it did at Colonial, or becomes too big of a burden.

"She's so experienced," European captain Catrin Nilsmark said. "She's had a lot of pressure from other people and from herself, a lot in the past and very recently. She'll be able to deal with it in her own way."

Sorenstam used to struggle with high expectations.

After winning back-to-back U.S. Women's Open at the start of her career, she went four years without winning a major, in part because she put so much pressure on herself to get off to a good start that she usually spent the rest of the week trying to catch up.

Sorenstam has learned to play within herself, and the results have been staggering.

Not only did she win two majors this year, but she was runner-up at the Nabisco Championship and missed the playoff at the U.S. Women's Open by one shot.

"In a major championship, I'm always a little nervous on the first tee and maybe at the end of the round," she said. "This is a different pressure because you don't want to let the team down, so you're trying to perform well. Every hole is like a new match."

Already, several Americans have said they would love the chance to play against Sorenstam, knowing it would be an opportunity to silence the gallery and to beat the No. 1 player in women's golf.

"I know I'd have to play my best to beat her, but it can be done," said Inkster, who beat Sorenstam in 2000 at Loch Lomond in the Solheim Cup, and also came from behind in the final round to beat her in the 2002 U.S. Women's Open.

But this isn't Sorenstam against the Stars & Stripes. She can only account for five points, and Europe will need 14 1/2 to regain the Solheim Cup.

Should the Europeans win, it would be the perfect ending to Sorenstam's dream year.

"I've had the chance to be on a winning team once, and that was a wonderful feeling," Sorenstam said. "Doing it at home with the crowd behind us, with my parents here, family and friends ... I think that will make it special."


 

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