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Sorenstam sets sights on LPGA Championship

Annika Sorenstam tested herself against the best at Colonial, then returned to the top of the LPGA Tour without missing a step.

Now she has her sights set on something major: this week's LPGA Championship.

``To come to a tournament with a win, it doesn't get much better than that,'' Sorenstam said Sunday after winning the Kellogg-Keebler Classic by three strokes, a victory that wasn't nearly as close as it looked.

``Obviously the confidence is high, and I feel like I'm hitting the ball well,'' she said. ``So I don't think I could have asked for better preparation for the (LPGA) championship.''

There's no question Sorenstam is the best female golfer of her generation and, quite possibly, in history. Playing in just her 10th season, she's already sixth on the career list with 44 LPGA Tour victories. That's halfway to Kathy Whitworth's career record -- a mark Whitworth needed 24 seasons to reach.

Sorenstam won 11 tour events last year, and had top-10 finishes in 20 of the 23 she entered. She set or tied 20 LPGA Tour records, including shattering the scoring mark with a 68.70 average.

But if there's a knock against her considerable game, it's her record in the majors.

Sorenstam has won four major championships, two U.S. Opens and two Nabisco Championships. That's a fabulous record -- if you're anyone else.

``Majors is where the history is, and a lot of people look at somebody's career depending how they do in the majors,'' Sorenstam said. ``Obviously I'd like to win more majors. ... I'd like to do better there, and I believe I can.''

In fact, raising her game for the majors was part of the reason she decided to make her historic stop on the PGA Tour.

Because of the men's inherent length and power advantage, Sorenstam focused her attention this year on her short game. At the Colonial, she paid close attention to what the men did around the green and the shots they took.

``I wanted to see how the guys approach the game,'' she said. ``I was there for five days, and I saw a lot and that experience I'm just trying to gather and learn and better myself.''

The hard work, as well as the tips she picked up at the Colonial, are showing. When she had a plugged lie in the first round at the Kellogg- Keebler Classic, she knew what kind of shot she needed to make. She didn't execute it as well as she wanted, but the knowledge is there.

Or how about that beautiful flip shot she made out of the rough around the 14th green, putting the ball within 5 feet of the hole.

``Some of the shots I hit around the greens were the result of hard practice and I could really tell,'' she said. ``It's coming slowly but surely, and that's all that matters.''

Then, of course, there was the suffocating attention. As the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour, Sorenstam faced more pressure than any golfer -- any athlete, perhaps -- ever has. Every shot was televised, every move she made analyzed.

In just a matter of days, she became a one-name celebrity like Michael, Tiger and Shaq. When she played her final round at the Kellogg-Keebler, she did it with several thousand people tagging along.

But instead of wilting under the burden, Sorenstam is thriving. She smiled and waved often to fans at the Kellogg-Keebler, and this wasn't the throw-up-the-hand-with-a-brief-bob-of-the-head that most athletes do. She made eye contact as she looked at the galleries, taking time to scan the faces.

When one little boy yelled, ``Hi, Annika!'' as she walked off the first tee Sunday, Sorenstam looked directly at him, smiled and waved.

Contending for a major will seem easy after this.

``To play under extreme pressure with everybody watching, everybody expecting -- well, not everybody. A lot of people didn't expect me to do anything, but some people expected me to do a lot,'' she said. ``Everything together is what this is all about. I wanted to test myself, and I did.''

 

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