Sorenstam returns to scene of greatest triumph

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The Independent Online

Mrs 59 is back at the scene, and it's not just memories that have her confident about a title defense.

Not only did Annika Sorenstam use the first 59 in women's tournament play to set another LPGA record with a 27–under 261 total last year, she's won twice in two events this season.

"I'm on the right track," Sorenstam said. "I've got a lot of confidence. I'm happy with my game. But this field is as strong as it gets. You really have to play your best here with the (windy) conditions the way they're going to be. I mean, I can't prepare any more than I've done."

Her primary challengers this week in the Ping Banner Health include Karrie Webb, who won the Australian Open on March 3, a week after Sorenstam beat her in a four–hole playoff in the Australian Ladies Masters, and Se Ri Pak and Lorie Kane.

Webb believes Sorenstam's 13–birdie round was even more remarkable on the exacting Moon Valley Country Club layout, at 6,459 yards the second–longest par–72 course on the tour.

"It's funny," Webb said. "On a course that gives up a lot of birdies, you would think a 59 would be possible, and no one comes close. Then here, it seems like it's impossible, and she does it. Who knows?"

The course has been toughened with longer rough and extra–firm greens, but Sorenstam has a stock answer for anyone who asks if she can break 60 again: "It's always possible."

"It's fun to come back," she said. "Everybody brings up that 59. Yesterday in the practice round, my caddie and I were kind of putting the ball where I was putting for birdie, and everything was coming back."

The 31–year–old Swede actually trailed by two shots after the opening round, then had her record–shattering second round and forced the others to play catchup. Pak made up seven strokes by shooting 63–67 the last two days, but still finished two shots out of a playoff.

"I shoot 25–under par and still get second place," Pak reminisced.

The Phoenix title was the second of four straight that Sorenstam won early in the season. She finished with eight victories – the most since Nancy Lopez's eight in 1979 – and a record dlrs 2,105,868 in prize money. That boosted her past dlrs 8 million for her career, another LPGA milestone.

She set another record with a 69.42 scoring average.

The Australian victory didn't count, but Sorenstam picked up her 32nd career title – and 14th since 1999 – by beating Kane on the first hole of a playoff March 2 in the season–opening Takefuji Classic in Hawaii.

It was her 26th victory in 114 tournaments in five–plus years, and Sorenstam finished in the top 10 in 52 others.

Small wonder she feels comfortable when addressed as No. 1 in women's golf. But with Pak winning five times last season and Webb three, including two majors, Sorenstam still feels she has things to achieve.

She plans to improve her short game, become more creative around the greens and focus more on majors. Sorenstam said she would budget her time to prepare for majors, reducing her schedule in advance of them when possible.

"How do I beat last season," Sorenstam said. "That's a very tough question, but if I set some different goals, I can beat it in a way that I think is meaningful. If you beat 30 records, do you have to beat 31 to make it a better season? That's going to be a little tough."

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