Golf: Sorenstam's tough assignment

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Annika Sorenstam knows she is following the game's toughest act at Pumpkin Ridge.

Yesterday she got her first look at the golf course on the rolling foothills of the Coast Range 20 miles west of Portland, where she will try this summer to become the first golfer to win a third consecutive US Women's Open.

It is the same course where, a year ago, Tiger Woods won his third successive US Amateur title.

"If our last stand here was any sign of what's to come, we're going to have a terrific week here in July," said Judy Bell, president of the US Golf Association.

Sorenstam did not have time to play the Witch Hollow course, the side of the 36-hole Pumpkin Ridge layout where the US Women's Open will be played on 10 to 13 July. She flew in on Monday from Delaware, where she finished third at the LPGA Championship. On Wednesday, she leaves for Frisco, Texas, the site of this weekend's LPGA Skins Game.

It is the kind of cross-country odyssey that is required of the defending champion of the most important event in women's golf. Five others have won consecutive US Women's Open titles, but no one has won three in a row.

"It would be incredible," Sorenstam said. "I think about it a lot. I have an opportunity to do something nobody else has done, which is a big challenge. But on the other hand, I tell myself 'Don't feel like you have to do it. You have won it twice in a row.' "

Already, this has been a successful year for the 26-year-old from Sweden by way of the University of Arizona. She was married to her long-time beau Dave Esch on 4 January, and already has won three tournaments.

The par-71, 6,415-yard Witch Hollow course for this week has been set up to provide a particularly testing challenge of the players' all round game, but that will not shake Sorenstam's resolve. Quite the opposite. The tougher the course, the better, the Swede said yesterday. "It seems like I do well on the golf courses where conditions are tricky, when par is a good score," she said.

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