Teenagers challenging established players
Annika Sorenstam has not given up on winning the Grand Slam, for no other reason than she is very determined and very good. It just won't happen this year.
And considering what has transpired since her dream evaporated in the mile high air at the U.S. Women's Open, she might look back at 2005 as the best chance she ever had to capture all four majors.
Morgan Pressel, 17, and Brittany Lang, 19, tied for second that week at Cherry Hills. Michelle Wie, 15, turned in two more captivating performances by nearly making the cut on the PGA Tour and advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links in her improbable quest to qualify for the Masters.
Paula Creamer, 18, left Sorenstam and everyone else in her wake last week at the Evian Masters to win by eight shots for her second victory this year.
The LPGA Tour was all Annika all the time for the first half of the season.
Now, some of the focus has shifted to girls half her age, and that has given women's golf even more sizzle.
"It doesn't get much better, really,'' Laura Davies said Tuesday. "It just shows how strong the women's game is now, and it is exciting, because there are so many different characters involved.''
The leading role is still played by Sorenstam.
For now, all she can hope for is to win the Women's British Open this week and join the elite company of Pat Bradley (1986), Wright (1961) and Babe Zaharias (1950) as the only women to win three majors in one season.
"It would be great to bounce back after the U.S. Open with another major,'' Sorenstam said.
For the longest time, Royal Birkdale was shaping up as the scene of something truly special.
Sorenstam won the first two majors with such ease -- by eight shots at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and by three shots at the McDonald's LPGA Championship -- that it seemed inevitable she would arrive in England the last week in July with only a tough links course standing in the way of a Grand Slam.
That all changed at Cherry Hills.
Sorenstam felt jangled nerves on her opening tee shot. A four-putt for double-bogey on the sixth hole of the third round essentially ended her bid for the third leg of the slam, and she wound up in a tie for 23rd at the U.S. Women's Open, her worst finish of the year.
It hasn't gotten much better since then.
She was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship, squandering a 2-up lead with four holes to play against Candie Kung. Last week in the Evian Masters, she was within striking distance until Creamer beat her by 10 shots over the final two rounds on the way to her eight-stroke victory.
Sorenstam started the year winning six of eight tournaments. After winning the second leg of the slam, she is 0-for-3.
It's a safe bet that the 34-year-old Swede has experienced a letdown after pouring so much into a Grand Slam and getting halfway there.
Bradley was the last woman to win the first two legs before she tied for fifth in the 1986 Women's Open. In her next start, she blew a share of the final-round lead at the Boston Five Classic by shooting 74. Bradley then rebounded to win the final major of the year at the du Maurier Classic.
Never mind how Sorenstam has played since the U.S. Women's Open. The intrigue is how the kids have played.
Not long after she dropped out of the hunt at Cherry Hills, Wie and Pressel worked their way to the top of the leader board, with Creamer one shot behind going into the final round. Wie and Creamer made a mess of the last day, but Pressel looked like a winner until Birdie Kim holed out a bunker shot on the 18th hole.
Wie recovered from her 82 just fine with rounds of 70-71 at the John Deere Classic. She looked like a shoo-in to make the cut until a double-bogey on her 16th hole. And even though she didn't make it to the Masters by winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links, she left everyone shaking their head over a 3-iron from 220 yards in a divot for an unlikely birdie.
Then it was Creamer's turn.
Already a proven winner on the LPGA Tour, she turned in her most impressive performance in France.
She shot 66 while playing alongside Sorenstam for the first time to build a seven-shot lead going into the final round. Such a big lead can be dangerous territory for anyone -- just ask Greg Norman -- and yet Creamer played with poise and confidence, never giving anyone hope.
In just five months, Creamer has become arguably the top American star on the LPGA Tour. Wie already is one of the most recognizable faces in golf. Pressel walks with a swagger.
This isn't the first time a teenager has made an impact on golf, but there have never been so many this good.
"In the 15 years I've been here, there's no question the fascination and attention given to what the future may represent in the LPGA has never been greater,'' LPGA Tour Commissioner Ty Votaw said Monday night.
Votaw is fond of saying that making predictions is a dangerous business, and he's not about to start.
But it's safe to say that the kids are coming.
And when Sorenstam embarks on the Grand Slam next March, it won't get any easier.
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