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Annika Sorenstam has no plans to ease up

Annika Sorenstam spent the last couple of weeks swimming with dolphins and relaxing in the sun. This week, she jumps back in with the sharks.

Envied and challenged by a pack of budding young stars, Sorenstam is coming off vacation to make her first appearance in four years at the Wendy's Championship for Children starting Thursday.

"We all enjoy seeing the young guns, so to speak,'' she said Wednesday after a practice round at Tartan Fields Golf Club. "You know, it's the future of women's golf. Obviously, I'm not going to step away too easily. I'm very competitive and I like the spot I'm in.''

Sorenstam, back from a two-week respite in Florida that included boating, wake-boarding and swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove, is easily the most honored and recognized women's golfer in the world. A lock to win a record eighth LPGA Tour player of the year award, she has won six times on tour this year.

A winner of 62 tour and 13 international events, including nine majors, she's hardly over the hill at the age of 34. Yet, there are several upstarts waiting to steal her throne, sooner or later.

"She's the best player maybe the game's ever seen,'' said amateur Morgan Pressel, playing in the Wendy's on a sponsor's exemption. "She was definitely one of my biggest role models growing up. You don't want to copy anybody but the best. Getting to know her in the past year, I've just tried to take as much as I can.''

Pressel finished tied for second at the U.S. Women's Open, two shots back after Birdie Kim holed a sand shot on the final hole. The 17-year-old secretly measured herself against Sorenstam.

"At the Open, I sneaked by her by a few shots,'' Pressel said Wednesday. "That was a good feeling.''

A distant No. 2 to Sorenstam on the LPGA Tour money list, rookie Paula Creamer has two tour wins and her sights set on more.

"My goals were to win several times this year,'' said Creamer, who won the Sybase Classic in May and followed up with a win at the Evian Masters in July. She also won the NEC Karuizawa in Japan earlier this month.

The 19-year-old will be paired with Sorenstam the first two rounds.

"I want to see what she does,'' Creamer said. "She's long off the tee, her course management is unbelievable, she rarely makes bogeys -- things like that that I've been aware of.''

First-year LPGA players Creamer and Brittany Lang, who tied Pressel for second at the Open, 20-somethings Cristie Kerr, Christina Kim, Lorena Ochoa, Jeong Jang and Natalie Gulbis, along with amateurs Pressel and Michelle Wie, who tied for third at the Women's British Open, are the next wave taking over the women's game. Wie turns 16 on Oct. 12, two years shy of meeting the LPGA age requirement of 18.

Sorenstam makes it clear she will not make it easy for her replacement.

"It's exciting to see the new generation but, having said that, I have personal goals,'' she said. "If I want to stay competitive, I'm going to continue to play really hard and push myself. Otherwise, somebody else will take my spot.''

After the final round of the Wendy's, which includes 48 of the top 50 on the LPGA Tour money list, U.S. Captain Nancy Lopez will announce the 12-member Solheim Cup team. Lopez has two captain's picks, with the rest of the team earning spots based on their performance over the last two years.

Kerr, Gulbis, Kim and Creamer are assured of spots, along with veterans Meg Mallon, Juli Inkster, Rosie Jones and Pat Hurst.

Sorenstam will lead the European team at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., Sept. 9-11.

 

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