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Sorenstam lets one get away -- again

7/7/2003

Annika Sorenstam is so good so often, you can almost forget that
sometimes golf kicks her in the shins and runs just like it does to most
everybody else.

Still, it was quite perplexing that the U.S. Women's Open title got
away from Sorenstam this way: On an approach from a perfect lie on the
18th fairway. Her ball went so far right she was practically on the
driving range, again.

OK, mild exaggeration. But all kinds of stuff suddenly became involved
in Sorenstam's now greatly hindered path to the green: the trees, the
fence, the portable toilets, the giant scoreboard, an ice-cream vendor,
three deer, a fireworks stand, a waterfall, a UFO.

All right, stop, we're exaggerating again. It just seemed
like that during the 15-minute resolution of this problem,
as USGA official Kendra Graham, Sorenstam and
Sorenstam's caddie discussed it.

It involved all that technical golf-rules jargon that even most
golfers don't really understand, including: direct line to the hole,
buffer zone, intervention, interference, etc. At one point in the
three-page transcribed explanation of it, Graham said, ''We kind of
arced out from the port-a-johns, because, again, you're not going closer
to the hole.''

Anyway, Sorenstam did get relief -- oh, grow up, not the
kind you get in a port-a-john -- and then she hit her third shot ... into
the bunker. By this point, her playing partner, Aree Song, who just
graduated from high school, was almost finished with college.

But there really was no relief for what Sorenstam was going through.
Here she had the Open right at her fingertips, and it was slipping away.

She hit out of the bunker to about 14 feet, needing to make that putt to have a chance at a playoff. And somehow, you pretty much knew she was done. With the exception of a long par save on No. 14 and then a pretty easy birdie on 15, Sorenstam's putter had been cool all day. She'd missed good birdie chances on Nos. 3, 6 and 16. The one
on 16, in fact, didn't come close.

''I thought the greens were faster on the first few holes,'' Sorenstam
said. ''That scared me a little bit, and I lost the speed of the greens.
I think that's why I didn't make any (putts) today.''

She ended up with a bogey-6 on 18, a hole that yielded 15 birdies and 26
pars Sunday.

Whatever anyone thought Sorenstam might do in this tournament, it
wasn't this: lose it on par-5.

''I think everybody was thinking she was going to make a 4 before she
would make a 6. That's just what Annika does,'' said Kelly Robbins, who
came from six shots back to make Monday's playoff with fellow
Americans Hilary Lunke and Angela Stanford.

Sorenstam, who won the Open in 1995 and '96 but was runner-up last
year, somehow hit her worst shot of the day at the worst possible time.

''I felt like I had to play aggressive,'' she said. ''I hit my 4-wood
to the right, got a bad break with the trees. And a tough shot from
there. So obviously, I'm very disappointed. I wish I could replay a few
shots.''

Sorenstam has had such a fantastic career -- 45 titles by age 32 -- and
has done everything the LPGA has asked in terms of being a likable
spokeswoman for the game. She hasn't just let her play do the talking,
she has talked, too. This year, her play and her personality at the PGA
Tour's Colonial in May won over many new fans as she got unprecedented
coverage for a female golfer.

Yet, there's this nagging thing about Sorenstam ... as great as she
is, you expect her to be greater in the biggest moments. Not fair,
really. She has five major titles, including the McDonald's LPGA
Championship last month. She has plenty of time to get more.

But she got beat on the Open's final day by Juli Inkster's hot putter
last year and by her own cool putter -- plus one hideous approach -- this
year. Sorenstam played the Colonial in large part to make herself a
better player under pressure, and that showed at the LPGA Championship.

It didn't -- not as much as she needed it to -- at the Open.

Afterward, she said, ''It's going to take a while to recover from
this. But at the end of the day, it's just a golf tournament.''

Well ... not exactly. It's the Open. The women don't get this stage
very often, it's the biggest deal they have.

Someone asked about the rest of year for Sorenstam. There's the
Women's British Open, which she's never won, and the Solheim Cup. It's
in Sorenstam's homeland of Sweden, and more than 80,000 tickets have
been sold for it.

She was in no mood to even think about any of that, though.

''I'll charge my batteries, I'll be ready when I need to,'' she said.
''But right now, I feel like being grumpy.''

Because another chance at the U.S. Open is a whole year away.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.