Annika first woman in PGA Tour event since '45
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Annika Sorenstam wondered how she would stack up against stronger players on tougher courses under the most suffocating scrutiny.
So she's going to play against men.
The world's best female golfer accepted an invitation Wednesday to play in the Colonial in May, which would make her the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
''For all the well-wishers who want to know why I would accept such a challenge, the answer is simple: I am curious to see if I can compete in a PGA Tour event,'' Sorenstam said.
No one has been able to touch her on the LPGA Tour lately.
She won 13 times around the world last year, shattered the tour's scoring record and finished out of the top 10 only three times. The year before, she became the first woman to shoot 59 and earn more than $2 million in one season.
''I just think she wants to find out how good she really is, and if the gap between women's golf and men's golf is that great -- or not great at all,'' Tiger Woods said.
Other players are equally interested in how she will fare against the best in golf at an event steeped in tradition and made famous by Ben Hogan.
''Annika's accomplishments show that she is certainly deserving,'' Tournament chairman Dee Finley said.
He said no Colonial members voiced objections to Sorenstam's participation in the event.
''I don't see how anybody could say having the finest woman golfer would have a negative impact on the club,'' he said.
Sorenstam picked the perfect course -- one that does not require as much power off the tee. Colonial is 7,080 yards (par 70) and puts a premium on accuracy, Sorenstam's forte.
She averages 265 yards off the tee, which would rank close to 200th in driving distance on the PGA Tour. She might have to hit long irons or a 7-wood into some of the greens to pins tucked behind deep bunkers.
History is hardly on her side.
The last woman to play on the PGA Tour was Babe Zaharias, one of the greatest all-around female athletes ever. She qualified for the 1945 Los Angeles Open and made the 36-hole cut before she was eliminated in the third round with a 79.
''I'm as curious as anybody to see how the best LPGA player of today, and possibly all time, will play against the men,'' Phil Mickelson said.
Mickelson, a past champion at Colonial, predicted Sorenstam would ''definitely'' make the cut and probably finish 20th.
First played: 1946
Asked how he would do, Mickelson said, ''I hope 19th or better.''
Woods did not want to guess how Sorenstam would do, saying it will depend on the weather and how the course is set up.
Dry conditions would allow the ball to roll more, allowing her to hit the ball farther. If it's windy or wet, the course would play even longer.
''She might have to have more of a conservative game plan and just dump the ball in the middle of the green,'' he said.
Woods is unlikely to play in the Colonial, although he predicted a media frenzy unlike anything Sorenstam has ever seen. He also said her participation could be risky.
''I think it's great she's playing, but ... it will only be great for women's golf if she plays well,'' Woods said. ''If she puts up two high scores, it will be more detrimental than good.''
Still, it gives the issue of women in golf even more attention.
Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations have made headlines for urging Augusta National to allow a female member before the Masters in April.
The 32-year-old Sorenstam, who is getting one of the 12 sponsor exemptions for the Colonial, will be the first of three women to play against the men this year.
Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley plans to play in the Greater Hartford Open in July. She qualified by winning a PGA of America sectional tournament, even though she was allowed to hit from a shorter set of tees. (Sorenstam will play from the same tees as the men.)
Michelle Wie, 13, has been invited to play a Canadian Tour event in Michigan in late July.
LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said Sorenstam's performance should not be viewed solely as a competition against the men.
''This is Annika vs. Annika,'' Votaw said. ''It's about Annika challenging herself and breaking down barriers, never stopping in her quest to improve and test her abilities.''
Mark Steinberg, the agent for Sorenstam and Woods, said it was too early to say whether Sorenstam would accept an offer to play another PGA Tour event.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press