Third would be a charm for Annika

Updated: June 4, 2004, 3:01 PM ET
Associated Press

AURORA, Ill. -- Annika Sorenstam knows how difficult it is to win a tournament three times in a row.

After all, she's done it twice.

Sorenstam, one of six LPGA players to win a tournament three consecutive times, starts her pursuit of a third straight Kellogg-Keebler Classic title on Friday.

"It is quite tough. My approach this week is try not to think about it," Sorenstam said. "I don't want to put more pressure on myself than I need to."

Compared to last year, this tournament is practically carefree.

Sorenstam won last year's event one week after her historic PGA Tour debut at the Colonial, a performance that set off a frenzy. Hundreds of fans wearing "Go Annika" buttons cheered her every move as she won for the second time at Stonebridge Country Club.

Things have settled down since then. At Thursday's pro-am, about 100 fans greeted Sorenstam on the first tee with polite applause -- a far cry from the last year's boisterous crowds that reached 10-deep for the Swede's practice round.

"I feel a little more relaxed and [it's] not as hectic as it was last year," Sorenstam said. "I have learned so much from the Colonial. I'm playing better golf. The experience has helped me the last few months. It's been really good for the game."

Sorenstam is coming off a victory at the Corning Classic last week, her 51st title. She rallied with four birdies on the back nine and finished with a 4-under-par 68 to win by two strokes over Michelle Estill and Vicki Goetze-Ackerman.

It was Sorenstam's third victory in six tournaments this year and her 16th come-from-behind win.

She hasn't needed a comeback at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic. Sorenstam has held the lead after every round she's played here, including opening rounds of 63 and 62.

"I have some wonderful memories from the two previous years and it seems like this golf course fits my game. I always feel so comfortable here -- the golf course, the people, the fans."

Sorenstam leads a deep field for the 54-hole tournament. Nine of the top 10 money winners will play the 6,413-yard, par-72 course. The purse is $1.2 million, with $180,000 going to the winner.

With last week's win, Sorenstam is back atop the money list, but not by much. Grace Park, the winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, is a close second. She has finished in the top three in five of the eight tournaments she's played.

"It's been a good start to the season. Winning Kraft was huge for me, for my career, for my golf game and for my confidence," Park said. "I thought playing bad was tough on your mind, but being in contention every Sunday is much tougher."

In her fifth year on tour, the 25-year-old Park held off teenagers Michelle Wie and Aree Song to win her first major. Park rolled in a 6-footer for birdie on the final hole to beat Song by a stroke.

It was easily the biggest win of Park's career. The closest she had come to a major title was last year when she lost to Sorenstam in a playoff at the LPGA Championship.

With her first championship in the bag, Park is setting her sights higher.

The LPGA championship is next week. If Park can win there ...

"Sure, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that," Park said of the possibility of winning all four majors this year. "I wanted to win my first major. Now I set new goals."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press