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Annika Sorenstam returns to Longs Drugs Challenge

Annika Sorenstam was trying to tie Nancy Lopez's record of five straight LPGA Tour wins the last time she played in the Longs Drugs Challenge.

A poor first round and a torrential downpour the next day, reducing the 2001 tournament from 72 to 54 holes, conspired against Sorenstam. She was never in the hunt at Twelve Bridges Golf Club, finishing 43rd in the event won by Se Ri Pak.

Sorenstam returns this week after missing the last three Longs Drugs events. The 72-hole tournament begins Thursday at The Ridge Golf Club in Auburn, located in the foothills near Sacramento.

``A lot of things have happened since (2001),'' Sorenstam said Wednesday. ``I'm happy to be back, and I've not played this golf course before. This is kind of close to my home in Tahoe, so it's about time I came back.''

Although she isn't familiar with the tight fairways at The Ridge, nothing has changed for Sorenstam, who always is a major threat to walk away with the winner's trophy and a big check.

``Any tournament Annika is in, she is always the favorite,'' said Natalie Gulbis, who grew up in the Sacramento area and is currently sixth on the money list.

Sorenstam has seven victories this year, upping her career LPGA Tour total to 63. The LPGA money leader for 2005, Sorenstam wouldn't mind picking up win No. 8 in the final Longs Drugs Challenge in the Sacramento region. The tournament moves to BlackHawk Country Club in Danville next year.

``I play this game for myself, and I motivate myself and I have my own goals, and I think I know my limits,'' Sorenstam said. ``I know what I want to achieve. There are a lot of young players coming up, and they are very good. But I also love being in the spot that I'm in, so that keeps me motivated.''

It won't be easy for the LPGA Tour's top player to earn another victory. The field includes 17 of the 24 players who recently played in the Solheim Cup, including eight of the top-10 money leaders this season.

Christina Kim has mixed feelings about returning to Auburn, where last year she slumped to her knees and wept after sinking a putt on the final hole to secure her first LPGA Tour victory. She is sad to see the tournament moving, but excited to be back.

``I came across the patio last month and was overlooking holes 1, 9, 10 and 18,'' Kim said. ``I saw footage of making the putt on 18 a few times. I remember the ball falling into the hole. It was almost, not like ghosts, but lots and lots of memories.''

Kim shot a first-round 64 and finished with a tournament-record 18-under par 266 to beat defeat Karrie Webb by one stroke.

Two-time winner Juli Inkster has played in all nine of the previous Longs Drugs tournaments. She finished third a year ago, fading on the back nine in the final round and finishing two shots behind Kim.

Cristie Kerr, third on the money list this season, registered her first tour victory at the Longs Drugs in 2002. Also in the field are top-10 money winners Lorena Ochoa, Gulbis, Meena Lee, Candi Kung, Gloria Park and Marisa Buena.

Hee-Won Han moved up to 11th on the money list after winning the Office Depot Championship in Los Angeles, which finished Monday.


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