Sorenstam's cool exterior belies jangled nerves

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The Independent Online

Annika Sorenstam had everyone fooled during her superb first round here on Thursday. Watching her split fairways and putting for birdies, no one could have guessed what was going on inside - the pounding heart and jangled nerves. "It never went away," she said afterwards. "It was more than I could have ever expected. It's just a thrill to be here and I'm very, very pleased with the way I played."

In an atmosphere that matched the historic occasion, Sorenstam, the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, held her own at the Colonial with a one-over 71 that left her in the middle of the pack. She was due out late last night to tackle her second round and attempt to make the cut. Conditions last night, however, were likely to have been tougher.

Even if she has not made the cut, it might not matter. Under the kind of scrutiny only Tiger Woods can appreciate, Sorenstam showed why she was worth a sponsor's exemption, and why she has become the most dominant woman golfer in 40 years.

With a gallery that stood a dozen deep and strained to see every shot, Sorenstam missed just one fairway in her first round. The only time she stood in a bunker was to read a putt.

"She's a machine. She's awesome," said Aaron Barber, who played with Sorenstam and had a 72. "I've never played with someone over 18 holes who didn't miss a shot." Dean Wilson, the other player in their group, had a 71.

Also at 71 was Nick Price, the defending champion who was among those protesting her sponsor's exemption. Price has said it "reeks of publicity". Sorenstam finished ahead of 26 players, including Sergio Garcia (72) and Tom Lehman (73).

But this was not an experiment to see if the LPGA's top player was better than the men. She only wanted to see how her game stacked up on a longer course (7,080 yards - 6,442 meters), with tucked pins, against the best competition golf has to offer.

Several of those who played in the afternoon watched hole-by-hole coverage of Sorenstam's round on television. "She hit it a lot farther than I thought she would," said Phil Mickelson said. "It looked like the way she's playing, she could easily compete on this level."

The last woman to play on the PGA Tour was Babe Zaharias in 1945. The last time there was this much interest in one round was when Woods made his professional debut in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open. Fans began gathering around the 10th tee nearly an hour before Sorenstam started her round. They crammed into a clubhouse balcony, on a grassy hill to the right of the tee, and covered every inch of rope from tee to green.

"Oh, I'm so relieved," said Sorenstam, looking worn-out yet pumped up, as she faced 300 reporters. "I feel like I played 36 holes in one day."