Tim Maitland in Hawaii
Annika Sorenstam put her money where her mouth is, winning the LPGA's season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii to add credibility to her stated goal of challenging for Lorena Ochoa's world number one status.
The 37-year-old showed the sign of a true champion, switching into overdrive in the closing stages at the Turtle Bay Resort to win by two shots, close the book on her first winless LPGA season since her rookie year in 1994 and throw the gauntlet down for Ochoa when the Mexican joins the fray at next week's HSBC Women's Champions.
"My clubs have done the talking this week. I'm obviously very, very thrilled. There are some tournaments that mean a little bit more and they come at a special time. I would say this is one of them for many reasons," said Sorenstam who claimed the 70th LPGA win of her career.
The Swede revealed a friend had prepared a bottle of wine ready for this moment when she won her 69th event in September 2006.
"It's mature now! It's probably even better," she joked, after a final round 69 gave her a 10 under par total of 206 for the three-round event.
"I played solid golf for three days. That's what I love to do, just play good golf. In a way, I was kind of protecting the lead, and I didn't really feel comfortable. I felt almost more stress, than just playing good golf and seeing what happened."
This latest win was certainly no parade. Sorenstam had challengers from all quarters until she rattled home successive birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.
Veterans and virtual unknowns hounded Sorenstam before she burst free.
In her wake the Scandinavian left a three-way tie for second between Americans Laura Diaz and Jane Park and Thailand's Russamee "Russy" Gulyanamitta, who until then had won only US$4,411 in her entire LPGA career.
"It's not the money. I just feel so great that I represented my country well," said Gulyanamitta, who estimated she earned only US$50 or 60,000 last year playing on the Ladies Asian Golf Tour and Phoenix, Arizona's Cactus Tour.
"This is the best tour in the world for women golfers and I'm proud to be representing Thailand. It's unbelievable. I didn't dream this. My plan for the week was just to make a lot of birdies. I never thought I'd be in second place," said Russamee, who was nicknamed "Fon" (rain) because of the weather on the day she entered the world.
All three of the up-and-coming stars due to play in Singapore got themselves in a position to challenge. The LPGA's rookie of the year Angela Park and Momoko Ueda, an LPGA rookie this year after becoming the youngest golfer to win the Japanese circuit's money list, tied for fifth. Both of their challenges faded when they mixed birdies with bogeys over four holes in the closing stages, to finish three shots adrift of Sorenstam.
A shot further behind alone in seventh was Korean sensation Ji-Yai Shin, who got within two shots of the lead, before stalling when missing a short birdie putt and then carding a bogey either side of the turn.
photo Dan Vernon
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photo Dan Vernon