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Lots of problems for Sorenstam on PGA Tour

Will Annika Sorenstam, the most dominating professional golfer in the world, play in a PGA Tour event this year?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be yes. It could be as soon as the Chrysler Classic of Tucson in a few weeks.

How well we can expect her to play is another question entirely, particularly since her PGA debut is bound to be surrounded by a flood of media attention.

Forget the argument over whether a woman should play on the men's tour. If she can get a sponsor's exemption, or in the case of Suzy Whaley, qualify in another tournament, then tee it up.

And on the tee is where the problems are going to start for Sorenstam or any female player. Last year Sorenstam averaged 265.6 yards on her drives and ranked fourth on the LPGA. On the PGA Tour, that average would put her 196th out of 202 players.

Courses on the LPGA seldom exceed 6,500 yards in length and go down to just over 6,000 yards. In the LPGA's first tournament of the season in Tucson, Ariz., at Randolph Park, the course measures 6,176. Courses that are considered short on the PGA Tour are 6,800 yards.

The median driving distance for PGA players was 280 yards last year. That puts Sorenstam only 14 or 15 yards back, which is a reasonable deficit, maybe a club and a half difference. With the longer hitters, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, the difference will be sizable, not to mention maybe a little intimidating.

Of course, long hitters don't win on the PGA Tour every week. Mike Weir, the first player who is in the middle of pack in driving distance to win this year, averaged just over 286 yards on the measured holes at the Bob Hope last week. In 2002 we saw such players as Jose Maria Olazabal, Loren Roberts and Nick Price win, and none them boom it down the fairway.

The key for Sorenstam will be to have the same remarkable accuracy in a PGA event as she does playing the LPGA, where she averaged hitting just over 80 percent of the fairways. That figure would have placed her second among the men behind Fred Funk last season.

Love is one of those who believes the length of Tour courses would be Sorenstam's biggest problem.

"I know Annika, the way she plays, could compete," Love said. "But the length of our golf courses is just so extreme.

"The length kills a lot of guys out here. There's guys that don't hit it as far that can only play well on certain type of golf courses. And I think if you put Annika at Colonial, yeah, she would do real well. You put her at Bethpage; she wouldn't do too well."

Another problem for Sorenstam will be her second shot. She might be playing 6-iron when someone else is using an 8-iron or a 5-iron as opposed to a 7-iron.

Her approaches will be more difficult simply by having to use a longer club. The long par-5s are going to be out of her reach.

Her primary difficulties will be on the greens, which are significantly faster than those on the LPGA and tend to have more difficult pin positions.

Sorenstam tied for 39th on the LPGA last season in putts per round, with a 29.66. That same average on the PGA Tour would have ranked her 118th in 2002.

Mickelson acknowledges the difficulties for LPGA players, but still thinks it is a good idea for them to try.

"Well, the PGA Tour has always said it's about having the best players in the world compete," Mickelson said. "And we have never differentiated male or female. It's just that there are a select few female players that can compete on the PGA Tour. I think it's very possible to compete out here, for some females who have the strength to hit the ball a long ways.

"I think it'll be a challenge for them though with all the forced carries over pins over bunkers, hard greens. I think it'll be very difficult to shoot low scores when you're not coming in with short irons. But I think it's very feasible and something that I think can be very good for the LPGA if they were able to play well and be successful."


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