Teenagers make Sorenstam toil

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The Independent Online

Annika Sorenstam, unrecognisable as the golfer she has been all season, faced a frightening task yesterday to maintain her pursuit of the calendar Grand Slam.

Annika Sorenstam, unrecognisable as the golfer she has been all season, faced a frightening task yesterday to maintain her pursuit of the calendar Grand Slam.

Sorenstam, who has already won the first two Slam titles, the Nabisco and the McDonald's championships, was five strokes behind the highly unlikely trio who led the US Women's Open after three rounds at Cherry Hills.

The world No 1 needed the round of her life to overtake not just the leaders, the 15-year-old phenomenon Michelle Wie, the 17-year-old Morgan Pressel - both amateurs - and the British Open champion, Karen Stupples, but also 12 other players between her and the lead.

Sorenstam simply could not afford to make any mistakes and her best hope of eventual victory lay in posting some early birdies and intimidating the players following her on to the golf course. She had promised, after the third round, to try to play a little more aggressively, but with Cherry Hills becoming firmer and faster daily, that might not be the correct game plan.

Indeed, opening bogies at the first two holes were the stuff of her worst nightmare, encouraging, rather than dismaying her rivals still sitting in the clubhouse.

The Swede had played her best golf of the championship on the back nine of the third round and that, she said, was "light at the end of the tunnel". She added: "This chance to win the Grand Slam is something I'm not going to give up on. I am going to fight to the end."

But the 34-year-old acknowledged that she had some severe competition to overcome, even if some of it was aged only 15 or 17, or, in the case of Paula Creamer, 18. "There's no such thing as too young anymore," Sorenstam said. "The kids are playing excellent golf and I want you to know that Cherry Hills is a really tough golf course. It takes precision, it takes touch, it takes a lot of things to play well here and they are demonstrating right now that they have got it all."

So, too, Karen Stupples, who emphatically wrote her name in the record books at Sunningdale last year when she started the last round of the British Open with first an eagle and then an albatross - five-under par after two holes.

Instead of making her nervous at the prospect of winning her first major, she actually said to herself: "Right, now they've got to come and catch me." No one did and the win has given her a taste for contending in the majors.

"I like the big tournaments and the big day," she said after a third-round 69. "It's part of why I play golf. I enjoy that moment and the feeling, the not being in control almost. It's quite a wild ride." But Stupples agreed with Sorenstam about "the kids". She said: "A lot of these girls, they are so young they are fearless."

Not that the kids themselves see it quite like that, with the most precocious of them all, Michelle Wie, seeing nothing unusual in expecting to win the most prestigious title in women's golf at the age of 15.

When asked what it might feel if she were to win, Wie just smiled and said: "I think it would be really cool. But I haven't really thought about that. My goal at the start of the week was to shoot consistent rounds under par and I haven't really achieved that goal. "So I have readjusted that goal and hopefully I will shoot under par in the final round.

"When I'm on the golf course I completely forget my age. When I am on the golf course I'm a golfer trying my best and I don't think 'Oh I'm played good for a 15-year-old', I don't actually think that."

It was pointed out to Wie that adding together her age and that of Pressel, it came to the age of Stupples. Wie gave a big grin before coming up with the remark, "We won't tell her you actually said that." She added: "Of course she's a lot older than I am, but on the course we're just playing golf and it will come down to who plays best."