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LPGA Tour:
Sybase Classic
Annika Sorenstam has sights set on 89 wins
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Annika Sorenstam still a factor even when absent

Annika Sorenstam is taking the week off, but she's still a big part of this week's Sybase Classic.

The name of the LPGA Tour's most dominant player came up in almost every interview and conversation on Wednesday, the day before the 72-hole tournament was to get under way at Wykagyl Country Club, just north of New York City.

Since Sorenstam has won four of her five starts this year, including last week's Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, her absence means there won't be a prohibitive favorite.

``I don't know about overshadowing. She just has raised the bar for women's golf and she's made it a better sport right now,'' said Paula Creamer, an 18-year-old rookie who has two top-10 finishes in eight starts this year. ``She's brought the more physical aspects into the game, being longer and stronger. The main thing is she is just stronger and can hit it further than anybody out here right now and that is a huge advantage. She has just raised it for so many players.''

Sorenstam is a two-time winner of the Sybase Classic, a $1.25 million event with a first-place prize of $187,500. She won it in 1998 and 2000 and has a second and third in it as well.

This will be the third straight year she has missed the tournament. She will defend one of her titles from last season next week at the Corning Classic and then there are two majors -- the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Open -- in June.

``Typically Annika doesn't commit to an event until the week before so you really can't prepare all along as if she would come as far as marketing strategy goes,'' Sybase Classic tournament director Leela Narang said Wednesday. ``Ticket sales have been going good and we did some things we hadn't done in recent years as far as marketing and public relations.

``We probably would have had a little bit more on-site spectators, not the most avid golfers because Annika attracts the whole array of people. We definitely would have loved to have had the Annika factor, but we still expect a great event.''

Cristie Kerr, second on the money list to Sorenstam this year, is the only player in the top 10 in the field, although seven of the second 10 are entered.

If Kerr wins, she would pass Sorenstam on the money list and be just $33,000 short of $1 million for the year.

``I'm playing so well lately that I have a lot of confidence,'' said Kerr, who has a win, a second and four thirds in eight starts this year.

Kerr was asked if she ever thought about how she would be dominating the tour if it weren't for Sorenstam.

``I hadn't thought about that because I'm always chasing her,'' Kerr said. ``She's the best in the world, certainly. A lot of players here want to challenge her and I'm one of them.''

Sherri Steinhauer is the defending champion, and like Sorenstam she has won the event twice. She beat Hee-Won Han in a playoff in 1999.

Creamer, who is 19th on the money list, has been watching Sorenstam off the course.

``The thing that I find with Annika is that she does her work and then she leaves. She doesn't hang around,'' Creamer said. ``She just gets it done and stays focused and that's what I'm trying to do, learn from that. The best player out here obviously is Annika and she has the best time management''

There is a chance a Sorenstam can win this weekend. Charlotta Sorenstam, Annika's younger sister by three years, is in the Sybase Classic field for the fourth time. Her best finish was a tie for 51st in 2000 when she was 13 strokes behind Annika in one of her 60 career victories.

 

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