Annika plays early Thursday; partners look forward to spotlight

Updated: May 20, 2003, 9:12 PM ET
Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dean Wilson is a journeyman who has spent most of his career on the Japanese Tour. Aaron Barber is an eight-year pro who didn't earn his first PGA Tour check until two months ago.

Dean Wilson
Dean Wilson, one of Annika's playing partners, wore his opinion on his shirt in a press conference Tuesday.

They will be in the most-watched group at the Colonial. And not because of anything they've done.

They're Annika Sorenstam's playing partners for the first two rounds at Colonial Country Club, where she will become the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour.

They'll play together Thursday, when they start on the 10th tee at 8:58 a.m., the last morning trio on the course. Their second round begins on the first tee at 1:43 p.m. Friday.

''It's a unique experience to be able to play with her in a tournament atmosphere like this,'' said Wilson, who wore a ''Go Annika'' button he bought for $3 at Colonial's pro shop.

About Annika's playing partners
The most-followed trio at the Colonial will tee off at 9:58 am ET on Thursday morning and 2:43 pm ET on Friday. Here's more about her two rookie playing partners:

Dean Wilson: He had his second top-10 finish of his rookie season two weeks ago at the Wachovia Championship. The 33-year-old Las Vegas native earned his tour card by finishing 11th at last year's Q-school. He played on the Japanese tour from 2000-2002, where he won six times. While at Brigham Young University, he was Mike Weir's teammate.

Aaron Barber: He's struggled in his rookie season, missing 10 of 14 cuts, although he did finish tied for fourth in Tucson earlier this year. The 30-year-old Minnesota native tied for eighth at last year's Q-school to earn his tour card. Before this year, he played the Canadian tour from 1998-2002 and the Hooters tour in 1997. Barber got into the Colonial the same way as Sorenstam, on a sponsor's exemption.

2003 driving averages
Barber: 280.6 yards
Wilson: 275.9
Sorenstam: 275.4

Sorenstam played a practice round Tuesday morning with Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik, although they didn't get far. Rain and the threat of storms stopped them before they finished the first hole.

Sorenstam hit her drive into the right rough, advanced it up the fairway and still had 190 yards to the middle of the green on the 565-yard par 5. Her approach went short and right of the green, hopping into a bunker.

Wilson and Barber look forward to competing with the world's No. 1 female player. The PGA Tour rookies insist they're not concerned about the extra attention from reporters and fans, or the chance Sorenstam could post better scores.

"Anybody can beat me when I play bad,'' said Wilson, who now lives in Las Vegas.

Barber added: ''She is going to beat some people, there's no doubt. I'm worried about 113 people beating me every week.''

Their names were selected randomly by a computer. Like Sorenstam, Wilson and Barber were drawn out of the category of players who haven't won or finished in the top 125 on the money list.

Wilson and Barber, on tour after finally earning their cards through qualifying school last fall, met Sorenstam for the first time Tuesday. They were leaving their news conference as she was entering the same crowded interview room for hers.

''She will probably feel more pressure,'' Barber said. ''After all, the spotlight's on her. I was surprised that we even had to do a press conference. We're just the two guys playing with her.''

Barber got into the tournament the same way as Sorenstam, on a sponsor's exemption.

Some PGA Tour players have criticized Sorenstam's decision to play. Defending Colonial champ Nick Price called her appearance a publicity stunt.

Barber and Wilson disagreed.

''She has every right to be in this tournament, and I'm all for her playing well,'' Wilson said.

Barber said Sorenstam has ''earned this opportunity based on her resume.''

''She's very dominant on the LPGA Tour, and I think it's a way for her to test herself at a higher level,'' he said.

Wilson, 33, won three times on the Japanese Tour in 2001, when he finished third on the money list. He had made only six PGA Tour starts before this season, and his best finish ever was two weeks ago, when he tied for seventh in the Wachovia Championship.

Barber, 30, turned pro in 1996. His only top-10 finish was a tie for fourth in March in Tucson, which was played opposite a World Golf Championship event. That was also his first tour paycheck ($132,000), and the first of three straight cuts he made before missing his last six.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press