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Sorenstam denies Stupples on final day

Cruising along like a well-tuned Volvo, Annika Sorenstam continued to show that she is the best woman golfer in the world with an easy win in the $800,000 ANZ Ladies Masters at the Royal Pines Resort.

The 33-year-old Swede shot rounds of 69, 70, 65 and 65 to finish at 19 under par 269 and five shots clear of Englishwoman Karen Stupples. Australia's Kylie Pratt, sister of tennis professional Nicole, matched Sorenstam's closing 65 to tie for third on 277 with Jennifer Rosales of the Philippines.

For the second day running, Sorenstam opened up the tantalising prospect of a sub-60 round with a hot start. In the third round she raced to six under through eight holes and this afternoon made two birdies and an eagle in her first five holes to show a clean pair of heels to the opposition.

A shot from the lead at the start of the day, Stupples, 30, had the best chance to catch the her but became just another onlooker when she pulled her opening drive into trouble and made a bogey to Sorenstam's birdie and the final round became a formality.

Although she did not shoot the second round of 59 of her illustrious career, that number is definitely on the cards when she tees up two weeks from now in the Safeway International in Phoenix on the LPGA Tour. Her ANZ Ladies Masters victory was the 58th of her career and she quipped afterwards that "I'm definitely looking at a 59 now."

On this week's showing, her opposition is in for another tough year because she is already playing well and declared early in the week that she wanted to win all four "majors" in 2004. It must be daunting to play beside her, and Stupples summed it up well when she said Sorenstam's three birdies and an eagle in the first seven holes took the wind out of her sails.

"That was the plan," said Sorenstam. "I wanted to get off to a fast start for my own momentum and confidence and make sure she knew I was serious. When you get off to a start like that, they have to start pushing and try and make something happen. That is what I wanted. I am happy with where my game is now.

"I had not played in a competition for more than two months before I came here. Finished 65-65 on the weekend, well, I'd like to do that every week. I was a little rusty at the start of the week but obviously I am on the right track. I have another two weeks to get ready for Phoenix and then for the Kraft Nabisco (the first major of the year). I have had a confidence boost here and I will keep on working."

Despite struggling on the first hole, Stupples was impressive in shooting a closing 68 and finishing second for the first time in her career.

"I was nervous on the first tee and got a little quick," she said after pocketing $80,000. "Annika played supremely well and deserved to win. It is really tough playing against her. I wanted to win but she got off to such a quick start. I made an eagle at the ninth hole and still found myself thinking, 'What do I have to do?' I am now really looking forward to playing in the Australian Women's Open in Sydney next week because there is no Annika."

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