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Annika Sorenstam has sights set on 89 wins

Annika Sorenstam likes to set goals. Whether it's eyeing the Grand Slam, tying the record for most consecutive victories or trying to make a birdie on every hole, the world's most dominant female golfer usually finds a way to stay motivated.

For some reason, she hasn't considered Kathy Whitworth's 88 wins on the LPGA Tour.

"I never really thought that 88 was in my reach,'' Sorenstam said. "It's never been a goal of mine because it seemed like it was so impossible to do.''

Not anymore.

With 60 career wins in just her 11th season and riding one of the most dominating runs of an already remarkable career, the 34-year-old Swede is closing in on the only two players to win more -- Whitworth and Mickey Wright (82 victories).

Actually, at the rate Sorenstam is going -- winning six of her last seven tournaments, eight of the past 11 and 37 overall since the start of the 2001 season -- Sorenstam could reach Whitworth's hallowed mark sooner rather than later.

"She needs 28. Assume she plays six years until she's 40,'' Patty Sheehan, a 35-time LPGA Tour winner, said Monday. "That's about four [or five] per year. That's not much for her. I just don't see her getting burned out.''

Betsy Rawls, who won 55 times from 1951-72, never thought anyone would approach Whitworth's record. Now that Sorenstam has gone past all but three players (the 60th win equaled Patty Berg), Rawls has a different take on things.

"When I heard 60 wins, it dawned on me, 'She can do this,''' Rawls said. "If she really sets her mind to it, she can do it. I've never said that before about anybody.''

Despite an influx of talented young players and claims of more depth on the LPGA Tour, Sorenstam has turned everyone else into the B-Flight. She's clearly in a league of her own, which was evident this past weekend at Eagle's Landing Country Club near Atlanta.

Over the course of four remarkable rounds, Sorenstam made No. 60 one of her most dominating wins. She practically lapped the field in the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship by 10 strokes, leaving everyone in awe with her booming drives, precise iron shots and impeccable putts.

"I hope people appreciate it with the caliber of fields that she's facing week in and week out,'' said Cristie Kerr, whose third-place finish left her 11 shots behind Sorenstam. "It's amazing, but that's Annika.''

Candie Kung closed with a 65, beat everyone but Sorenstam and probably deserved a trophy.

"She's up there in her own little world,'' Kung said. "I came out in second place and felt like I won the tournament.''

Sorenstam has been a force on tour for the past decade. She's won seven majors -- including the career Grand Slam -- and six player of the year awards. Even a bit of a slump in 1999 (two wins and fourth in the rankings) merely spurred her to greater heights.

Karrie Webb took over as the world's No. 1 player, while Sorenstam dedicated herself to getting back.

"The way Karrie played was very inspiring,'' Sorenstam said. "I wanted to be the best player out there. I looked at my game and said, 'How can I be the best player?'''

Already a fitness buff, she hired a trainer to oversee an extensive weight-training program. The results were dramatic, especially in her arms and shoulders -- once a bit scrawny, now bulging at the seams of her shirt.

That's not all. Sorenstam went to work on her short game, hitting tens of thousands of shots in practice, determined to leave no opening for an opponent to exploit. Again, the results were dramatic.

At the Chick-fil-A, for instance, Sorenstam hit the fairway with 82 percent of her drives, reached the green in regulation 76 percent of the time and needed only 108 putts -- an average of 27 per day. She made it through three of the four rounds without so much as a single bogey on her scorecard.

The LPGA's "Big Three'' -- Sorenstam, Webb and Se Ri Pak -- has been reduced to "The One and Only.'' Webb and Pak each had a single victory last season, slipping to ninth and 11th in the player of the year standings, respectively. No one else shows any inclination to challenge Sorenstam.

So, while Tiger Woods pushes himself to stay ahead of Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, Sorenstam is forced to set goals that apply only to her. Such as the Grand Slam, which she got started on at the first major of the year.

"I try to mind my own business,'' Sorenstam said. "I don't need anyone to motivate me. I know what I'm capable of doing.''

Michelle Wie might be a player who could challenge Sorenstam, but she's still just a teenager. Anyway, she's more focused on playing with Woods on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam tried that a couple of years ago at the Colonial, but she has no plans of playing with the men again. That was a one-time-only chance to test her mental and physical strength under the brightest of spotlights -- a lesson that is still paying dividends today.

Rawls points to the Colonial as a major step in Sorenstam's development, even though she already was the world's top female player and didn't make the cut.

"Annika has grown into this,'' Rawls said. "She's a different person than she was before Colonial. She copes with things well. It used to take a lot out of her, but now she seems to be able to cope with things comfortably, and that adds years to your career.''

Next stop, 89.


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