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Annika Sorenstam unsure about cause of lack of form

There was a sense of urgency when Annika Sorenstam walked out of the clubhouse after winning the LPGA Championship last year, the second leg of what appeared to be her unstoppable quest for the Grand Slam.

She couldn't wait to send a text message to Tiger Woods.

They had a friendly contest over who had the most majors, and Sorenstam tied him at nine with an easy victory at Bulle Rock.

Now, she might need to text Woods for some advice on another topic he knows well.

How do you handle questions about a slump?

It first came up with Woods in the spring of 2001, when he failed to win his first five PGA Tour events to start the year, then went to Dubai and lost a 54-hole lead to Thomas Bjorn by taking double bogey on the last hole.

Turns out it was a false alarm. Woods went on to win Bay Hill, The Players Championship and the Masters, becoming the first player to hold the four professional majors at the same time.

Yes, that was some slump.

In some respects, Sorenstam is not much different.

She won her 2006 debut in the MasterCard Classic, but since has gone seven LPGA Tour events without a victory. That doesn't sound like much because she has five top 10s during that drought and is still No. 5 on the money list.

But there is some truth to a Sorenstam slump.

This is her longest stretch without winning since she went 10 tournaments in 2001. And while she has recorded top 10s in all but two events this year, she twice blew tournaments with final rounds of 75 and 74, and she missed the cut at Kingsmill, her first weekend off in four years.

"Obviously, I'm not as happy with the season as I was last year when I came into this event," Sorenstam said Tuesday. "I can't really pinpoint what it is, other than I haven't performed as well. I'm still making birdies, but I'm making a ton of bogeys. The only thing I can do is work through it."

She spoke about her results, but the question was directed more toward her game.

And that's what is so confounding.

She looks like the same Sorenstam, sculpted from a vigorous workout regimen, and her swing is as repetitive as ever. Every week, she believes she is going to win. Over the last three months, she has been searching for answers.

"That's the funny part," Sorenstam said. "I go out there and I feel as good as ever, and when I'm done after 18 holes, the results are not there. I guess I feel disappointed because it feels good."

The word "slump" carries such negative connotations that golfers rarely admit when they're in one. Even at the height of her game, Sorenstam lost as often as she won. That was last year -- 10 victories out of 20 starts, which is astounding.

But slumps can leave quickly in golf.

Sorenstam was agitated by the line of questioning at her press conference Tuesday, and not just because two of the first three questions were about Michelle Wie. She has a history of meeting challenges, whether it's Paula Creamer debating her over a drop at the ADT Championship, or the attention surrounding Wie when she turned pro at the Samsung World Championship last year.

Sorenstam won both tournaments handily.

That's what makes the LPGA Championship so important. It's the second major of the year, and these are the events that matter to her. There is a furor over Wie after the 16-year-old from Hawaii flirted with a spot in the U.S. Open during qualifying Monday, and a picture of her ran on the front page of The New York Times.

Sorenstam has a chance to set a record, which she loves to do, by winning the LPGA Championship for the fourth straight year.

This would be the time to shut up the critics.

Then again, maybe this simply is the end of an incredible run.

Woods and Sorenstam were No. 1 for five years. With the exception of Jack Nicklaus, rarely has anyone dominated golf that long.

Karrie Webb, who won the career Grand Slam in a span of seven majors and once was the player to beat on the LPGA Tour, rode her wave for three years and was happy it lasted that long.

"Speaking about Annika, I think it's probably one of the most untalked about things in the sport what she's been able to maintain for what, five or six years now?" Webb said. "I don't think she's far off, and we could be sitting here talking about it in a month and she could have won a couple of tournaments. And no one would be talking about perhaps the slump, or whatever."

It could be Tiger Woods in 2001.

Or it could be Tiger Woods in 2004, when he won only once on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam doesn't have any answers, but there are changes in her life. She is busier than ever, and happier. She said she is over her divorce and was seen running hand-in-hand through the rain last month at the Sybase Classic with her boyfriend. She is opening a golf school in Orlando, working on a fitness DVD and starting to tinker with golf course design.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing," she said. "I want to wake up in the morning and I want to be excited to do different stuff, if it's golf, if it's putting a business plan together or if it's hiring somebody for the school. I love that. I think there's a way I can combine the two. I still believe I can be the best out here and continue to have the success I've had doing the other stuff on the side."

Has she spread herself too thin? Are outside interests keeping her from a singular focus required to dominate golf?

"That's the question I get a lot," she said.

And she likes that one a lot better than being asked about a slump.

June 7, 2006

 




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