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Sorenstam ready for Evian title defence

The accumulated stress of a groundbreaking year has hit Annika Sorenstam hard.

The 32-year-old Swede, who played in a PGA Tour event in May, struggled through six holes of the Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver two weeks ago -- then walked off the course in the first round.

``I think I just hit a really low point in Canada,'' Sorenstam said Tuesday as she prepares to defend her title at the $2.1 million Evian Masters this week.

``The last four months caught up with me and I just couldn't do it any more. I felt it physically. I felt it mentally. I needed a break.''

Sorenstam said the Canadian Open was the first time that she left a tournament during a round.

``My body told me it was time,'' she said. ``It's just this year has been so different in so many ways.''


Sorenstam played in the Colonial, becoming the first woman in 58 years to play against the men. She missed the cut -- and the experience took a lot out of her.

``Yes, it was the Colonial mainly,'' Sorenstam said, adding the ``buildup'' to that took an emotional and physical toll.

``It never really ended for four months. I was on a high,'' she said. ``It was just all the attention and the pressure -- and I paid a price. But it's a price I don't mind paying.''

While it was ``a great learning experience,'' Sorenstam said she won't play against the men again. ``It wouldn't be the same if I did it again.''

After the withdrawal in Canada, Sorenstam went home to Nevada for a week off.

The current leader on the LPGA money list at more than $1.2 million, Sorenstam forgot about golf.

``For four days, I watched films. I became like a couch potato,'' the usually workaholic Sorenstam said. ``I just didn't do anything.

``After, I felt more normal, had a little more energy,'' she said. ``I'll need it, especially for the next three weeks.''

That starts Wednesday at the par-72, 6,171-yard Evian Masters, which she has won twice in the last three years. The course is 61 yards longer this year.

On the scenic course wedged between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva on the border between France and Switzerland, she will be facing one of the toughest fields of the year. Angela Stafford is the only absentee among the top 10 players on the tour's money list.

After Evian, Sorenstam will play in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham Saint Annes, England, the final major of the year. She's never won there, but has finished second three times.

Sorenstam then defends her title at the Compaq Open in her native country. Last year, she won three of four Evian Ladies European Tour tournaments she competed in -- collecting 13 titles worldwide.

``That's a lot of titles to defend,'' Sorenstam said.

She remained vague about any retirement plans.

``If I still want to go out and grind then I will,'' she said. ``I won't be out here forever. But I've just extended some contracts, so I know I'll be playing through 2005.''

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