Sorenstam easily beats out hoops star Taurasi

Updated: December 28, 2004, 9:01 AM ET
Associated Press

She won early and often, and often by overwhelming margins. She won on four continents -- in Australia, Sweden and Japan and in six of the 50 United States. She won a major, the most money and a remarkable 10 times in just 20 starts worldwide.

AP Women of the Year
Year Athlete Sport
2004 Annika Sorenstam golf
2003 Annika Sorenstam golf
2002 Serena Williams tennis
2001 Jennifer Capriati tennis
2000 Marion Jones track
1999 U.S. Soccer Teamsoccer
1998 Se Ri Pak golf
1997 Martina Hingis tennis
1996 Amy Van Dyken swimming
1995 Rebecca Lobo basketball
1994 Bonnie Blair speedskating
1993 Sheryl Swoopes basketball
1992 Monica Seles tennis
1991 Monica Seles tennis
1990 Beth Daniel golf
1989 Steffi Graf tennis
1988 Florence Griffith Joyner track and field
1987 Jackie Joyner-Kersee track and field
1986 Martina Navratilova tennis
1985 Nancy Lopez golf
1984 Mary Lou Retton gymnastics
1983 Martina Navratilova tennis
1982 Mary Decker Tabb track
1981 Tracy Austin tennis-x
1980 Chris Evert Lloyd tennis
1979 Tracy Austin tennis
1978 Nancy Lopez golf
1977 Chris Evert tennis
1976 Nadia Comaneci gymnastics
1975 Chris Evert tennis
1974 Chris Evert tennis
1973 Billie Jean King tennis
1972 Olga Korbut gymnastics
1971 Evonne Goolagong tennis
1970 Chi Cheng track
1969 Debbie Meyer swimming
1968 Peggy Fleming figure skating
1967 Billie Jean King tennis
1966 Kathy Whitworth golf
1965 Kathy Whitworth golf
1964 Mickey Wright golf
1963 Mickey Wright golf
1962 Dawn Fraser swimming
1961 Wilma Rudolph track
1960 Wilma Rudolph track
1959 Maria Bueno tennis
1958 Althea Gibson tennis
1957 Althea Gibson tennis
1956 Pat McCormick diving
1955 Patty Berg golf
1954 Babe Didrikson Zaharias golf
1953 Maureen Connolly tennis
1952 Maureen Connolly tennis
1951 Maureen Connolly tennis
1950 Babe Didrikson Zaharias golf
1949 Marlene Bauer golf
1948 Fanny Blankers-Koen track
1947 Babe Didrikson Zaharias golf
1946 Babe Didrikson Zaharias golf
1945 Babe Didrikson Zaharias golf-x
1944 Ann Curtis swimming
1943 Patty Berg golf
1942 Gloria Callen swimming
1941 Betty Hicks Newell golf
1940 Alice Marble tennis
1939 Alice Marble tennis
1938 Patty Berg golf
1937 Katherine Rawls swimming
1936 Helen Stephens track-x
1935 Helen Wills Moody tennis
1934 Virginia Van Wie golf
1933 Helen Jacobs tennis
1932 Babe Didrikson track
1931 Helene Madison swimming
Small wonder then, that what was an average year for golfer Annika Sorenstam was more than good enough to earn her recognition as The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for the second year running.

Sorenstam received 40 first-place votes and 263 total points. Diana Taurasi, who led Connecticut to the NCAA women's basketball title and then captured the WNBA's Rookie of the Year award, finished second. She had 15 first-place votes and 154 points, two more than Russian teen tennis sensation Maria Sharapova.

Consistency has been the hallmark of Sorenstam's 11-year career in pro golf. Her performance this season wasn't nearly as eventful as 2003, when Sorenstam won two majors and 11 times on the LPGA Tour, became the first woman since 1945 to play on the PGA Tour, did a star turn on "Oprah" and entered the Hall of Fame. But incredibly, it was every bit as efficient.

Sorenstam began it with a win in the ANZ Ladies Masters on Australia's Gold Coast, making up a four-stroke deficit at the midway point by closing with a pair of scintillating 65s. She ended it by edging Cristie Kerr in a playoff in the ADT Championship, the final tournament on the LPGA calendar, with her only victory that didn't come by multiple shots.

In between, Sorenstam wrote a book, lifted her profile as an endorser and mixed it up with the boys a second time in the Skins Game. She also stayed comfortably atop the world rankings, locked up a fourth consecutive LPGA money title -- her seventh in the last 10 years -- tied her own scoring average record at 68.7 and led the tour in top-10 finishes, rounds under par and greens in regulation.

"Naturally, I'm pleased with my season in many different ways," Sorenstam said, "and especially because I've played less tournaments and still won so much."

Most important, perhaps, the 34-year-old Swede proved again that she has to be included in any argument about the most dominant golfer -- male or female -- of this era. Over the last four seasons, Sorenstam has separated herself from her competition even more than either Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh, boosting her total LPGA wins to 56 and climbing within striking distance of the record 88 recorded by Kathy Whitworth in a 22-year career.

"I'm still so far away from it but I've come so far ahead of what I ever thought I would," Sorenstam said earlier this year. "I always said I would continue to play this game while I enjoy it and feel motivated. I just wonder if I can continue on this pace."

But no one should be surprised if she does.

Golfing great Nancy Lopez saw something special in Sorenstam not long after she joined the pro circuit. "There's a calmness about her you don't normally see in young players," Lopez said at the time, and that's still evident watching Sorenstam play now, striding purposefully down the fairway in wraparound sunglasses and formfitting outfits.

But then, as now, the cool, confident exterior masks a competitive desire that burns every bit as brightly as it has in any of the game's greats.

Soon after Australian Karrie Webb knocked Sorenstam off the throne of women's golf at the end of the 2000 season, the Swede rededicated herself to the sport with an intensity few believed she possessed. Sorenstam spent the next six weeks practicing nothing but putting and began a strength-training regimen that has made her the envy of not just her peers, but female athletes of every stripe.

After a 2002 season that ranked as the most successful by any golfer in four decades, the same impulse drove her to accept a sponsor's invitation to play against the men at the Colonial the following year. Sorenstam missed the cut there, but played in front of crowds nearly four times larger than she routinely encounters on the LPGA Tour. She put both her game and her personality under that microscope to learn more about her weaknesses than strengths, and those lessons have been paying dividends ever since.

Sorenstam insists winning is not as easy as she makes it look. But whenever she gets in a tight spot now, Sorenstam draws on the memories of playing in front of galleries lined eight deep behind the ropes, remembering how it felt to stand in the fairway and feel like there wasn't enough oxygen to go around. Then she draws the club back calmly and pulls off the shot she needs.

"I'm nervous," she explained in August of 2003, right after winning the British Open to complete her career Grand Slam, "but I love it at the same time."

Those same emotions mixed once again coming down the stretch of this year's ADT Championship, where Sorenstam missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to win the tournament outright, then had to cobble together a bogey on the first extra hole for the victory. She didn't win any style points, but the display of grit was as good a way as any to wrap up another spectacular season.

"You're a champion whether you make a bogey or a birdie," Sorenstam said. "That's the way I look at it."

And she's not the only one.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press