Omnipotent Sorenstam is taken to last hole by Pak

Swede secures title she craved after finishing as runner-up three times but South Korean puts up fierce competition
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The Independent Online

Annika Sorenstam found yet another way to demonstrate her domination of her sport by winning the Women's British Open in an exciting finale against all her strongest rivals here yesterday. Sorenstam victories can be inevitable. This was her fifth of the season and her 26th in the last three remarkable years.

But it was only at the 72nd hole that the Swede finally defeated her playing partner, Se Ri Pak, when the Korean bogeyed after finding a fairway bunker. Sorenstam's legendary accuracy was in evidence over the closing nines holes as she perfectly plotted her way around a links that caused everyone else severe headaches.

Only one player, an early starter, bettered the final-round 70 that ensured Sorenstam, at 10 under par, won by one stroke from Pak. Karrie Webb and Grace Park were another stroke behind with overnight leader Patricia Meunier Lebouc, who is 12 weeks pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, falling back to finish fifth.

When you are the best in your field, there are only two things you can do. One is to find somewhere else to test yourself, the other is to keep proving your status over and over again. Sorenstam has managed both in what she called a "dream season".

In May she became more famous than she ever would have imagined by playing against the men at the Colonial in Texas. She missed the cut but gained valuable experience in coping with extreme pressure and attention.

It was a one-off challenge but she hoped it would help her to win more major championships on the women's circuit. Two of her three wins since have been majors, taking her tally to six.

She also has a career grand slam to her name after winning the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open for the first time. Yesterday's victory, the 56th of her career, was particularly special after being a runner-up three times and having missed the cut for the only time in four seasons at Turnberry last year.

"I am thrilled," she said. "I have wanted this tournament for so long and been so close. I believe I have become a better golfer since playing at the Colonial. There were times today when I felt the pressure and then I thought it was not as bad as the Colonial.

"This was not about a dominating performance. There were so many great players pushing themselves to play better on a tough course. But that's what motivates me. This was the one I really wanted."

Utilising the great links of the men's Open rota brought the best out of the players and helped the profile of the championship. Brilliant sunshine yesterday encouraged a gallery of almost 22,000 to attend, a record, as was the total for the week of 73,000. The course had also dried out and with some difficult pin positions, only the best players were equipped to cope.

Around the turn, Sorenstam, three-time champion Webb, the 2001 winner Pak, and Meunier, the Nabisco champion from March, were all tied for the lead. Webb bogeyed the 10th and 11th, and quickly the attention was concentrated on the Swedish-Korean twoball.

Sorenstam birdied the par-five 11th to go one ahead but Pak responded with a two at the short 12th. Pak, who hated her first experience of links golf five years ago here, has developed a creative flair and her tee shot was a superbly executed three-quarter punch shot to three feet.

The par-five 15th had troubled Sorenstam all week but now she chipped to a foot - one of the shots she has been working on after watching Sergio Garcia at the Colonial - for a birdie. Not even a streaker could disturb her concentration, even if her caddie went after him with his boot. "I've never seen that before at a women's event," she said. "He was pretty ugly so it wasn't worth it."

Pak failed to get up and down from a bunker for her birdie and, though she birdied the next to draw level, only a fine recovery from another pot bunker at the 17th green saved her from falling one behind.

The sands of Lytham were always going to prove decisive. Sorenstam dropped only one shot in the last 38 holes, from sand at the fourth. At the 18th, Pak drove into a fairway bunker and could not reach the green with her second. Sorenstam elected to use her driver and execute the shot brilliantly. She had a birdie opportunity but when Pak could not hole her par-putt, the Swede only needed two putts for victory.

"I am a bit unhappy with the finish, but it was a fun day," Pak said. "I like playing with Annika. She is so strong and makes me play stronger."

Sorenstam, who spent the morning relaxing by watching Saving Private Ryan on video, wore a necklace that she was sent by a woman who claimed it would improve "performance". She said it would work in 10 days and the Swede had put it on 10 days before. Another was for "grounding", which she gave to her husband. "I need the performance and he needs to calm down," she said.

WEETABIX WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN (Royal Lytham & St Annes) Leading final scores: 278 A Sorenstam (Swe) 68 72 68 70. 279 S Pak (S Kor) 69 69 69 72. 280 Grace Park (S Kor) 74 65 71 70; K Webb (Aus) 67 72 70 71. 282 P Meunier Lebouc (Fr) 70 69 67 76. 283 V Goetze-Ackerman (US) 73 71 68 71; W Ward (US) 67 71 69 76. 284 S Gustafson (Swe) 73 69 71 71. 285 Y Kim (Kor) 73 70 72 70. 286 Gloria Park (S Kor) 70 75 69 72; C Kung (Taiw) 73 71 69 73. 287 K Stupples (Eng) 69 74 70 74; P Marti (Sp) 71 70 70 76. Selected: 288 B Daniel (US) 74 71 67 76. 289 L Davies (Eng) 75 70 70 74; B Morgan (Wal) 72 70 71 76; H Bowie (US) 70 66 74 79.