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Chick-fil-a Charity Championship

Annika Sorenstam already seeking new streak

Nancy Lopez got a phone call from her husband last weekend, congratulating her for keeping a grip on a major piece of women's golf history -- even if she's got to share it.

Then again, no record is safe as long as Annika Sorenstam is around.

The super Swede is ready to get started on a new streak, and what better time than this weekend at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship? After all, Lopez will be handing out the trophy to the winner.

In an apropos convergence of the LPGA's past and present, Sorenstam will tee off Thursday in a tournament that is hosted by Lopez -- just four days after Sorenstam's bid for a record sixth straight victory was denied at the Michelob Ultra Open in Virginia.

"As a professional athlete, you want to keep some of your records,'' Lopez said Wednesday. "I wasn't rooting against her, but I did get a sweet message from my husband [former major league player and manager Ray Knight]. He told me, 'You can breathe easy. Annika didn't break your record.'''

Of course, Sorenstam is not content just to share the mark set by Lopez in 1978.

"I get over things pretty quickly,'' she said after playing the pro-am under a warm Georgia sun. "I'd like to start a new streak. This would be a good week to start.''

Sorenstam is the automatic favorite in any tournament she plays, even when faced with a strong field. Ninety-two of the top 100 players from last year's money list will be on the course at Eagles Landing Country Club south of Atlanta.

Essentially, it's Sorenstam vs. Everyone Else. So far, Everyone Else isn't faring so well.

Beginning last November, Sorenstam won her final two events on the LPGA Tour. She kept the run going with three more victories to start 2005, including the first major of the season.

But the amazing run finally ended last weekend at Kingsmill, doomed by a dismal first round, a botched hole in the final round and a shaky putter all the way through. She could have made up at least a dozen strokes with steadier play on the greens.

As it was, Sorenstam wound up 10 shots behind winner Cristie Kerr, in a tie for 12th. But that's considered a blip on the LPGA radar, hardly a sign that Everyone Else is ready to challenge a player who has dominated the tour for most of the past decade.

"The other players know how great she is,'' Lopez said. "She definitely intimidates them.''

Kerr is one player who might be ready to put a dent in Sorenstam's dominance. The 27-year-old American has five career victories, four of them since the start of 2004. Last weekend, she finally showed she could win with Sorenstam in the field.

"I feel like I'm becoming a top player,'' Kerr said. "And once you reach a state mentally and physically, the sky's the limit. If you ask Annika that, she would say the same thing. Once your career reaches a certain level, you seem like you can keep going forward.''

Other than Kerr, Lopez couldn't name any other players with the potential to challenge Sorenstam, at least in the short term.

"I hope the other players will work hard to beat her, but they have to get stronger,'' Lopez said. "Golf is easy for her. She may not win every week, but she's dominating.''

Jennifer Rosales won this tournament last year for her first career victory -- with Sorenstam in the field, no less. The 26-year-old native of the Philippines picked up another win in February at the SBS Open in Hawaii, but still sounds a bit in awe of the world's top-ranked player.

"She is just an unbelievable player,'' Rosales said. "When she misses, she misses good. That's what it is. It's not about hitting great shots. It's about missing it and still hitting your target. That's how she plays.''

Rosales isn't in top form to go for her second straight victory at Eagles Landing. She's had an off-and-on wrist injury over the last four years, and it cropped again three weeks ago. She was forced to withdraw from a tournament in Mexico and couldn't play the next week, either.

"I never felt so much pain in my life,'' Rosales said. "I was so worried that I would be off for quite a long time.''

The wrist felt better when she got to Kingsmill, and she played respectably on the way to a tie for 19th.

"I'm not really confident enough,'' Rosales said. "But I'll try my best this week.''

Chick-fil-A is wrapping up 11 years as title sponsor of the Atlanta-area tournament, one of the more popular stops on the women's tour. Officials have yet to line up another company to put up the big dollars, but say the event isn't facing immediate peril.

Lopez certainly hopes the tournament will go on, and she's certainly willing to keep her name on it.

"It would be sad if it wasn't here anymore,'' she said. "It deserves to be here in this area, here at Eagles Landing, because the players like to play here.''

 

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