PHOENIX -- Annika Sorenstam wanted to play with the men so
she could raise the level of her game. She may need to, if her
start to the LPGA season is any indication.
Sorenstam opened her year with a solid 5-under 67 Thursday, only
to find herself trailing would-be rivals Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb
after the first round of the Safeway Ping tournament.
Pak shot a 7-under 65 while Webb bogeyed her final hole for a
66, both serving early notice to Sorenstam that she might have
trouble winning 11 times on the LPGA tour again this year.
''They're all chasing who's on top,'' Sorenstam said.
Pak acknowledged as much, following an opening round in which
she made eight birdies against a lone bogey under perfect scoring
conditions at the Moon Valley Country Club.
''I am getting better every year, but I don't think I'm as good
as her,'' Pak said. ''So probably at least a couple more years, I'm
going to have the same season as her.''
Webb posted the first low number, despite a miscue on the final
hole when she drove it about 260 yards down the middle, only to fly
a 9-iron over the green.
After missing an 8-footer for par, Webb had to settle for being
a shot out of the lead.
''Obviously I'm a little disappointed to bogey the last, but it
was probably the two best swings of the day, so I can't complain
about it,'' Webb said.
There was little to complain about for the LPGA, which got three
of its most notable players on top of the leaderboard in only the
second tournament of the season.
Sorenstam didn't play last week in Phoenix, where Wendy Doolan
won by shooting 21-under. But Doolan's score last week and the good
play of Webb and Pak in the first round caught Sorenstam's
''Today's only Thursday, so I was just trying to focus on my own
game,'' Sorenstam said. ''But I did peek at the leaderboard once.''
Sorenstam played her usual round of fairways and greens, hitting
16 of them and making the most of her length by reaching the par-5s
in two. She barely missed a 12-footer on her final hole.
Sorenstam skipped the first week of the season to play a
practice round at Colonial Country Club, where she will play against the men in
May, and a round with Tiger Woods in Florida.
''I was a little nervous off the first tee,'' she said. ''I've
had a long break, and I didn't know what to expect.''
What Sorenstam can expect the rest of the year is that she'll be
in the spotlight and will be expected to perform. Just how well
she'll do, even Sorenstam can't say.
''People are asking what's she going to do this year,''
Sorenstam said. ''I ask that myself.''
Webb, who was the dominant player on the tour before Sorenstam
won 19 times over the last two years, missed only one fairway and
two greens in fashioning a 66.
Webb hasn't won as much as Sorenstam, but she holds the edge in
major tournaments by a 6-4 margin. Still, Webb won only twice last
year and understands that Sorenstam's recent spurt has overshadowed
''Obviously you'd like to play half as good as she played last
year and you would have a really good year,'' Webb said. ''But, you
know, I have always maintained I've been the one that has motivated
myself to achieve the things that I've done. So I know last year
was a pretty good year, it just wasn't as consistently as good as I
Webb said she was forced to find new goals after getting enough
points to qualify for the hall of fame in 2000 and finishing the
career grand slam in majors a year later. With Sorenstam now the
target, she may have found those new goals.
''I always thought I was a pretty determined person, but that
doesn't even come close to Annika's determination,'' Webb said.
Distance matters on the LPGA tour. On the 399-yard 18th
hole Thursday, short-hitting Vicki Goetze-Ackerman was hitting a
lofted wood to the green for her second shot. Ahead of her, Karrie
Webb was waiting with a 9-iron in her hand. Goetze-Ackerman shot a
75 to Webb's 66. ... Dorothy Delasin shot a 67 despite a bad back
that had her bending down to pick up her ball ''like I'm wearing a