Sorenstam built in the Armstrong mould

Should Annika Sorenstam successfully defend her title at the Weetabix Women's British Open - and she has done so at all the other majors so it is hardly unknown territory - the Swedish world No 1 would join Tiger Woods with eight major championships to her credit.

Should Annika Sorenstam successfully defend her title at the Weetabix Women's British Open - and she has done so at all the other majors so it is hardly unknown territory - the Swedish world No 1 would join Tiger Woods with eight major championships to her credit.

But who wants to be compared to Tiger these days? Lance Armstrong would be a better fit. "We are all human beings. We all go through ruts. But Annika does not let that happen, a lot like Lance Armstrong," said Meg Mallon, the US Women's Open champion.

"Even Jack Nicklaus finished out of the top 20 quite a bit. You're seeing Tiger's problems right now. Karrie Webb had an amazing three-year stretch, but the longevity of Annika's streak is incredible. She makes it look so easy that people don't appreciate it. The rest of us know how hard it is."

To defeat Sorenstam takes an exceptional performance and the 41-year-old Mallon did just that with a final round of 65 to the Swede's 67 at last month's US Open. Last week, at the Evian Masters in France, Wendy Doolan produced a spell of seven under for five holes in doing the unthinkable and overtaking Sorenstam on the last day.

"It was close last week but there is not much you can do when someone has a wonderful stretch like that," Sorenstam said. "I am more fired up this week because it is a really big tournament and I feel I am playing well. I am ready to go. I can't hit the ball much better."

Sorenstam won last year at Royal Lytham after a thrilling duel with Se Ri Pak, who won the Open the last time it was here at Sunningdale in 2001. Laura Davies, who has been waiting a long time to repeat her 1986 triumph, along with Kent's Karen Stupples, the only European other than Sorenstam to win in the States this year, and Catriona Matthew, of Scotland, lead the home challenge.

Sorenstam, on her first visit to Britain this year, was finally able to collect the Golf Writers' Trophy, having been nominated as the European player who had made the "most outstanding contribution to golf" in 2003.

During the year she heralded a new era of women playing against the men, won two majors, including a first British Open, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

This season has not been too shabby, either. She has won five times in 12 events, been runner-up three times and has not finished worse than 13th. Since the start of 2000, she has won 38 times, finished outside the top 17 only twice in 19 majors and has missed precisely one cut.

"She makes a very low percentage of mistakes," Mallon explained. "She has incredible mental strength and an incredible work ethic. She plots her way around a course brilliantly but I enjoy being paired with her because of the pace she plays. It is a lesson to every kid and sports psychologist that the greatest player in the world is also the fastest."

Sorenstam still believes she can get better. "I believe you can one-putt every green, so there is still work to be done," she said.

But while the travel and the practice do not excite her as much as the competition, the 33-year-old is not retiring yet. "I've thought about it, but I don't have a date in mind," Sorenstam said. "I've always said as long as I enjoy it and feel motivated to practise, I will continue because I do enjoy the competition."

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