- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
- 0 Shares
NEWPORT, R.I. -- You do not want to meet Annika Sorenstam in a dark alley. Or a dimly lit pool hall. Or anywhere else a one-on-one conflict may develop. Like, say, a golf course.
It's not that the soft-spoken Swede is physically imposing -- she's a slight 5-foot-6 -- or particularly menacing with that blonde ponytail snaking from beneath her golf visor. It's just that when confronted in a head-to-head battle, she thrives. And wins.
On Monday, the first hole at Newport Country Club served as that figurative dark alley, and challenger Pat Hurst was on the wrong end of the duel. Like the steely eyed assassin she is, Sorenstam attacked first, making birdie on the hole and never looking back in claiming the U.S. Women's Open championship.
The two-woman playoff was less confrontation than coronation. Sorenstam charged to a two-stroke lead after one hole, a three-stroke lead through three holes and a five-stroke lead through nine holes, in essence making the entire back stretch one huge victory lap, as Sorenstam shot a 1-under 70 to Hurst's 74.
The win is Annika's 10th career major title, which is especially sweet because it ties the mark of her good friend and that other best player in the world, Tiger Woods.
After Sorenstam triumphed at last year's LPGA Championship to induce a major-title tie with Woods, she presented him with a consolation prize in the form of some good-natured needling. It was a text message that simply read: "9-9."
When Woods broke the deadlock months later at the British Open, he reportedly taunted back with the message: "I've got 10."
If we know anything about Annika's competitive spirit, Tiger should be checking his phone right ... about ... now.
"He's been calling me every day and cheering me on, which has been really sweet of him," Sorenstam said. "I think he's been on vacation, and for him to tune into women's golf I think says a lot. But when I get my phone, I'll find a way to remind him even more."
Of course, Monday's victory means so much more to Sorenstam than just amiable vindication over a buddy. She is now tied with Babe Didrikson Zaharias for fourth place on the all-time major title list, has won majors in six straight seasons and is firmly in contention for her ninth career Player of the Year title.
It's also her first Open championship in 10 years. After nabbing the trophy in 1995 and '96, it's taken golf's reigning queen a while to regain the most prestigious crown.
"When I came out early and won, my first tournament was a U.S. Open," Sorenstam said. "I won back-to-back and I thought, 'Wow, I can do this.' Now it's been 10 years."
But perhaps more importantly -- on a short-term basis, at least -- any talk of a "Sorenstam Slump" can be tossed into the mighty Atlantic that borders this old-style Newport course. Entering the Open, Annika was an un-Annika-like sixth on the LPGA money list, with one win and six other top-10 finishes in nine starts. A career year for most players, but one met with insouciance by Sorenstam, who has spent a career seeing her name on top of leaderboards, not near the top.
"This week obviously means a lot to me," said Sorenstam, who earned her 68th LPGA win, placing her behind only Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, "to come back the way I did, and especially the way the season has been going. A little up and down."
If her Open performance is any indication, Sorenstam isn't going anywhere for a while. Sure, she'll continue to be pushed by fellow multiple-tournament winners such as Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb, young superstars such as Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer, Asian sensations such as Ai Miyazato and Jeong Jang, and grizzled veterans such as Juli Inkster and, of course, Hurst, who witnessed firsthand on Monday what it's like to meet Annika in a one-on-one confrontation.
She's intimidating. She's ruthless. And as Annika Sorenstam proved once again, she wins.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
With a playoff victory in the U.S. Women's Open, Annika Sorenstam proved once again why she is such a tough competitor.