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Sorenstam practices with Tiger Woods

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, the world's top women's golfer, has been playing against Tiger Woods, preparing for a groundbreaking start in a men's event and fretting over a trip to the Masters.

Oh, and Sorenstam will defend her Phoenix Open title starting on Thursday at her first LPGA event of the season. But her dominating role among women has clearly taken a back seat to curiosity about her competing against men.

Sorenstam, who captured 13 titles worldwide last year, played a practice round alongside men's world number one Tiger Woods last week near his Orlando, Florida home.

"It was a lot of fun," she said. "Just practiced a little bit with him and then we played 18 holes, gave me a chance to see what he's all about, his game, how he practiced, gave me some pointers. It was very nice. We had a good time."

Woods coached her on how to handle the pressure of her history-making efforts, lessons he learned from such stalwarts as Michael Jordan.

"He's very good at it, and he has to deal with it probably 100 times what I have to," Sorenstam said. "It was more to see how he plays, how he hits his shots, but he was very supportive, and he wished me good luck and so forth."

Sorenstam also practiced at Colonial Country Club, testing her skills on the course where she will become the first woman in 58 years to play in a PGA Tour event.

"It's just one week but I think it could have a great impact on women's sports," Sorenstam said. "Just the attention. It doesn't happen too often. I don't think this is something you will see very often."

Sorenstam's landmark start at The Colonial runs May 22-25.

"I thought it would be a good opportunity just to see the golf course," she said. "It wasn't really in tournament shape. There were no leaves or nothing, and everything was brown. So they told me it won't look like this.

"I got a good feel for the golf course, played with (South African pro) David Frost and he was telling me everything all the time. So I know everything about the golf course, every pin placement, et cetera. So it was a good time."

Sorenstam also said she is scheduled to attend the Masters next month to accept an award. But the Swedish star made it clear she wants to steer clear of a planned protest over Augusta National Golf Club not allowing women members.

Martha Burk, leader of a collection of US women's groups, plans to lead a protest at the course. The move has sparked a swarm of counter protest moves, including the Ku Klux Klan's appearance in support of Augusta National.

"I'm going to the Masters to receive an award, but I'm leaving. I want to get out of there," Sorenstam said. "That's not something I like to be a part of. I think it's actually bad for the game of golf. I hope we can find a solution to it and move on."

Sorenstam refused to put her playing in a men's tour event on the same footing with the membership protest.

"I'm not looking at the Colonial or trying to play in a PGA event to do something like Martha Burk is doing," she said. "This is for me personally. I want to see how good I am.

"I'm not trying to put the guys on the spot or trying to prove anything. This is for me to take my game to the next level."

But Sorenstam is putting a PGA field, likely including Woods, on the spot. None want to trail a woman on the scorecard, even the greatest woman in golf.

And she is not even thinking about missing the cut.

"The Colonial is going to be like my fifth major," she said. "It's a tough golf course and everything around it feels like a major for me. If I break even for the four days, I'll be happy.

"When I walk away on that Sunday, I will have new experiences for whatever I could be playing, playing the golf course, playing with the guys. It's a learning process for me."

Sorenstam might not make another practice tour at Colonial.

"I will get a chance to have a few practice rounds, two or three rounds, and that's how I normally prepare for an event. I know this is a special event, but at the majors I get so overprepared and I don't want to make the same mistake at Colonial. I want to try to stick to my routine and not overdo it."

Sorenstam, 32, plans to play about 20 LPGA events this season and many of those will be title defences, so she has no plans to play another PGA event.

"My goals are only LPGA," she said. "That's where I want to play well and set new records. This is, I believe, a one-time opportunity."

Sorenstam said she does not think a poor Colonial showing by her would hurt the LPGA, and said that she has gotten lots of support from other LPGA players.

"I've got a lot of support from everyone," she said. "I've gotten cards from players. That means a lot to me when players call me and wish me good luck.

"I feel like the tour is totally behind me, and I think they all know that I'm going to try to do the best I can. I think everybody is excited to see how it goes."

After 42 titles in nine seasons, Sorenstam returns to a Moon Valley course where she became the first LPGA player to crack 60, firing a 59 on her way to an LPGA 72-hole tournament record 261.

"It's a special place for me in many ways," said Sorenstam. "So it feels like a good place to start."

Among Sorenmstam's rivals for the 150 000 dollar top prize is Australia's Wendy Doolan, who won her second LPGA career title last week in Tucson.


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