Annika the Tigress has text appeal
Women's British Open: Sorenstam's major parallel with Woods as golfing rivals and friends play catch-up
Sunday 30 July 2006
Annika Sorenstam does not have to play against Tiger Woods to sympathise with his male pursuers. She knows the same feeling of trying to catch the three-time Open champion as Chris DiMarco and the rest.
Last week at Hoylake DiMarco got to within a stroke of Woods on the back nine, but that only spurred Tiger to sprint away over the horizon. "He's got this uncanny ability, when someone gets close to him, to just turn it up another level," said DiMarco, part exasperated, part admiring. "It's hard to catch him."
Sorenstam has her own private battle with Woods. Whenever either of them wins a major, they text each other. It is rather an endearing habit, as the other might not have heard the news. At the start of the month it was Sorenstam's turn to receive congratulations as she won the US Women's Open. The Swede merely texted back: "10-10". It was her 10th victory in a major championship and, while Woods had plenty of other motivations for winning at Hoylake, it will have played a non-trivial part in Tiger achieving his 11th title.
Having hugged caddie, wife and coach, and sipped from the Claret Jug, Woods let his fingers do the talking. "Oh, yes, I've heard from him," Sorenstam said early last week. "I got a text on Sunday afternoon. It was a pretty smart-aleck comment, but that is to be expected, I guess, and deservingly so. He let me know he won another major, in case I did not know."
For all the talk of Woods having a rivalry with Ernie Els or Phil Mickelson or whomever, with Sorenstam it is not so much about having a lower score on any particular day but how each compares to everyone else within their separate spheres. "We are good friends," Sorenstam said, "but we have a serious rivalry." Sorenstam watched every shot of the conclusion of Tiger's emotional victory and intends to use it as inspiration for her challenge in the Weetabix Women's British Open. It is a title she has won only once before - she has won all the other majors on multiple occasions - but that previous victory came at this week's venue of Royal Lytham, in 2003.
It was the same year as she teed up against the men at the Colonial tournament and it was in preparing for that historic appearance that she first started practising with Woods in Orl-ando. Sorenstam learned from his regime and got help with certain shots around the greens.
There are other connections. Tiger's wife, Elin, shares both Swedish nationality and a love of tennis with Sorenstam. The pair have attended tennis tournaments together, while Woods is also a big fan of the sport. It is no coincidence that Tiger and Annika share the same manager. What they both crave is victory on the biggest occasions. Where Tiger's example rubs off on Sorenstam is in the intensity he brings to a tournament from start to finish and a willingness to react to the situations as they develop. Not for them the denial of ignoring the leaderboards and only seeing how it pans out later.
Last year Sorenstam had her own emotional trauma when she went through a divorce. The wins kept on coming, however, as she collected 11 titles from the 21 tournaments she entered. This year she won the first event she teed up in, but then her progress seemed to stutter. Did someone mention "slump"? There is a lot of young talent on the LPGA circuit in America, including Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and the Mexican Lorena Ochoa. Not to mention the vastly skilled, still improving, incredibly wealthy but still young Michelle Wie.
Then there was the return to form of two of Sorenstam's main rivals, the Australian Karrie Webb and the original Korean queen, Se Ri Pak, who took the first two majors of the season. But Sorenstam responded by winning her third US Open title in a one-sided 18-hole play-off against Pat Hurst. Fittingly, the win came just weeks after the 35-year-old took up American citizenship.
It was also vindication of another Tigeresque policy - continually to seek ways of improving. "I hit a little bit of a plateau in my game," she said. "It's been tough to climb straight up for six years, but sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. When you raise the bar and have high expectations and then do not win every other week you think, 'Maybe I'm not playing to my potential'. It is just a funny game sometimes, but you have to keep on going. I did not doubt my capabilities at all.
"For some reason, it was just not there. It was very, very close and then I won the US Open and have played some good golf since then. I am not worried. I know the things I have to work on. This is a long journey, and you've got to enjoy it, otherwise you can't get to the destination." No doubt an 11th major is the next stop on the way to Planet Tiger.
The Eyecatchers: Michelle leads the belles of the golf ball
Michelle Wie Hawaii's wealth-iest schoolgirl. Has best swing, male or female, according to Johnny Miller. Putting can be suspect but improved after a tip from John Daly. Still only 16 and still learning. Third twice and fifth in the season's three majors, third last year in the British at Birkdale. Improving fast.
Rebecca Hudson Arguably the finest amateur of her generation but struggled early as a professional. The 27-year-old claimed her maiden title in Hungary to become the only British winner this season on the French-dominated European circuit. Enjoyed celebratory lunch at the hotel restaurant in Doncaster where she works during the winter.
Lorena Ochoa A 24-year-old Mexican who has topped the LPGA money list for most of the season. Has won twice and finished first or second in six consecutive events. Lost a play-off to Karrie Webb at the Nabisco.
Se Ri Pak Inspired a whole generation of Korean women now dominating on the LPGA Tour. Recovered from multiple injuries, loss of form and motivation to win her fifth major title at the LPGA Championship. Won the British at Sunningdale in 2001 and lost in thrilling duel to Sorenstam at Lytham two years ago.
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