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Pak wins title with Sunday 64; Sorenstam falls to third

3/24/2003

PHOENIX -- Annika Sorenstam was plodding along, trying to
concentrate on her own game. That might be a good strategy to use
against the men at the Colonial, but it didn't work Sunday against
Se Ri Pak.

Sorenstam blew a two-shot lead with some indifferent play, and
Pak caught her with a pair of eagles on the front nine on her way
to a 64 and the championship of the Safeway Ping tournament.

In the end, Sorenstam wasn't even a factor, finishing in a
three-way tie for third, four strokes back after shooting a 71.

''I think I played well. It was one of those days I just had a
lot of lip-outs,'' Sorenstam said. ''That's golf. If you play golf
long enough you know these things happen.''

Pak shot 30 on the front side to take the lead, then held off
Grace Park with a scrambling par after hitting it in the water on
the 17th hole. She finished with a flourish, hitting her second
shot to tap-in range on the final hole for birdie.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, struggled with her wedges and putter all
day and was never in contention on the back nine. After three days
of making birdies, she made 17 pars and only one birdie long after
it didn't matter.

''I was playing my own game, one shot at a time,'' Sorenstam
said. ''I feel good. Nineteen under, I'll take that any time.''

Pak, who had five wins last year to Sorenstam's 11, won the
first head-to-head showdown between the LPGA tour's two top players
by being aggressive from the first tee on.

She birdied the first two holes, hit a shot 230 yards to within
2 feet for eagle on the fourth and made another eagle on the par-5
eighth.

''It gave me a little more confidence,'' Pak said. ''At least I
know I can go out there and play.''

On a course where birdies came in bunches, though, it took a
scrambling par on the 17th hole for Pak to win.

Pak was leading by a shot when she hit her tee shot into the
water. She hit an 8-iron about 40 feet and then calmly sunk the
long putt.

''It made my day,'' she said. ''That was my best putt of the
week.''

Park actually had an outside chance to tie if she could sink her
second shot on the par-4 18th hole and she nearly did, with the
ball checking up just 3 feet beneath the hole. She shot a
final-round 65.

''It looked really good in the air,'' Park said. ''I was hoping
it would go in.''

Pak, who had four straight rounds in the 60s, served notice to
Sorenstam that she faces an imposing task in trying to win 11 times
again this year. Four of Pak's wins last year came with Sorenstam
in the field.

''I'm really proud of myself,'' said Pak, who finished at 23
under. ''I really wanted to win this tournament.''

Surprisingly, Sorenstam played erratically, plodding along with
pars on the same course where she made nine birdies a day before.

The most dominant player in women's golf made only one birdie --
two-putting the par-5 10th hole -- and parred the rest. It was the
second straight year she blew a final-round lead at the Moon Valley
Country Club, where she lost last year in a playoff to Rachel
Teske.

It was Sorenstam's first competitive golf in five months, a time
she used to go to cooking school, make plans to play against the
men at Colonial and play a practice round with Tiger Woods.

The layoff didn't seem to affect her as she opened with a 67,
then improved a shot a day in the second and third rounds.

But in the final round, Sorenstam grew increasingly frustrated
as she missed putt after putt in the opening holes. After hitting
her drive into a fairway bunker on the eighth hole, she flipped her
driver in the air in disgust.

Worse yet, the wedge play that carried Sorenstam to nine birdies
the day before deserted her, and she missed the green on both the
seventh and eighth holes with a wedge in her hand.

''This week, it was all about getting in the mode,'' said
Sorenstam, who was playing her first competitive golf in five
months.

Karrie Webb, who was tied with Sorenstam, Pak and Patricia
Meunier-Lebouc after three rounds, was never a factor in the final
round. She started out three shots back and shot a 2-over 38 on the
front, including a bogey on the on the par-5 fourth when she missed
the green with a wedge and took three to get down.

Notes
Before she bogeyed the sixth hole Sunday, Se Ri Pak had
gone 43 holes without a bogey. ... First prize was $150,000, out of
a total purse of $1 million. ... Despite playing in twosomes on a
relatively short course with almost no rough, the leaders still
took more than four hours to finish. ... Rookie Lorena Ochoa had
weekend rounds of 64 and 66 to finish at 17 under.