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Annika first woman in PGA Tour event since '45

2/14/2003

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.

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.