Swedish genius sets sights on the 'Sorenslam'

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The Independent Online

Annika Sorenstam's grand plan, nothing less than the Grand Slam, reaches its penultimate stage this week at the US Women's Open Championship at Cherry Hills golf club.

And what a stage it is for the Swedish star who, at the start of this year, declared her ambition to achieve golf's ultimate dream - all four majors in a calendar year.

Currently she is two down, or maybe two up, and two to go, having won the Nabisco Championship in Palm Springs in March and, two weeks ago, the McDonald's LPGA championship in Delaware.

Now she is in a place that matches her lofty aims - the Mile High City of Denver at a course that has as its backdrop the Rocky Mountains. But centre stage will be Sorenstam, who is attempting what no professional golfer, male or female, has ever achieved. Bobby Jones created the concept when, in 1930, he won all the four majors that were open to him, the Amateur championships of Great Britain and the United States and the Open Championships of those two countries. He then retired at the age of 28.

Arnold Palmer first floated the possibility of a modern Slam, although he, like all after him, failed to win the US Masters, US Open, Open and US PGA in one season. The closest has been Tiger Woods, who in 2001 after winning the Masters, had all four titles in his possession, with three of them won the previous year.

But the Tigerslam, as it has been called, is not the ultimate, which the Sorenslam will be, if completed. And although the pressure only gets more intense with each stage, Sorenstam will still start favourite at Cherry Hills. She is having the kind of season at which Woods can only gawp, having won six of the eight events in which she has played this year, two of them, of course, majors.

Furthermore, she is dominating not just in the ShopRite Classics or the Chick-Fil-A Championships of this world; she won the Nabisco by eight strokes and the McDonald's by three. If fact, in the latter she led by eight with nine to play, before easing down.

The rest of the tour regard her in awe. It is not her physical presence, for at 5ft 6in and slim with it she towers over no one. But the weight of her record overwhelms most opponents, so that players of the stature of Laura Davies say of her: "She is the best golfer, man or woman, ever to play the game." Davies is not daft enough to say that Sorenstam is better than Jack Nicklaus, or Woods, just that she is better in her field than they were or are in theirs.

Julie Inkster, arguably still the best American-born player on the tour is similarly convinced. "Annika is the world's most dominating athlete. She gives LPGA events credibility - they either have her or they don't."

There are many reasons why her competitors think this way. For instance her season-long stroke average is almost two strokes - 1.92 - better than the second placed golfer, Christie Kerr, who, in turn, is 1.92 better than the 31st placed golfer, Moira Dunn.

But her psychological superiority is mostly not unconnected with the 61 tournaments, and nine majors she has won on the LPGA tour. Even Woods is impressed by that statistic and after Annika won the McDonald's had to suffer the leg-pulling indignity of receiving a text message from the Swede that read simply "9-9", a reference to the fact that Woods also has won that number of majors.

He still has, of course, after the wonderful win by Michael Campbell at Pinehurst on Sunday that stopped Woods' own Grand Slam ambitions, and this will be Sorenstam's chance to overtake him. But despite her record this season, the Swede will not be without opposition this week. The rarefied air in Denver means that the ball travels around 10 per cent further than at sea-level, and although Cherry Hills is set up to play long, the field will benefit from the extra length it gets from nature.

That should bring into the equation players such as the 18-year old Paula Creamer, who has this season become the youngest player to win on the LPGA tour. She showed herself to be a good player at Formby, near Southport, when the Curtis Cup was held there and slightly in advance, when all aspects of the game were considered, of the precocious Michelle Wie.

Wie, still only 15, is playing this week and she is so long she will actually have to throttle down in the Denver air. She finished a distant second to Sorenstam at the McDonald's but, such is the confidence of youth, said that she certainly felt she could have won.

Could have, should have. But could and should do not seem to apply to Sorenstam. She just does - and the odds are that the text message to Woods on Sunday night will be a simple "10-9."