Sorenstam two back of Pak after opening 5-under 67

Updated: March 20, 2003, 10:44 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam hopes to put the controversy behind her and just play golf.

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 attention.

''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 her play.

''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 have been.''

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.

Notes
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 skirt.''


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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