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Golf - 14. January 2008.

Annika aims to be number one again

Tim Maitland
HSBC Champions Writer-at-Large

The LPGA's record money earner Annika Sorenstam is setting her sights on returning to the top of the women's game after the first injury-plagued season of her career.

The 37-year-old Swede missed two months of the 2007 season with a herniated disc and another that was bulging; injuries that drained her strength so badly she couldn't hit her driver 200 yards when she first resumed practicing. However after playing her way back to fitness over the last three months of the year, Sorenstam is using the winter months to prepare for an all-out assault on the pinnacle of her sport.

"My goal is to get back to the top. That's my goal, my long term goal," she says in a matter-of-fact way.

"I don't take it for granted, but I'm focused. I know what it takes. I know what it makes me feel and it's worth it. It's a lot of hard work, don't get me wrong, but I know what I want to do. Is it going to be fluid? Is it going to be straight? No! It's going to be bumpy, but I'm going to get there."

Having secured four top 10 finishes on the LPGA in the latter half of last season culminating in her victory at the Ladies European Tour's Dubai Ladies Masters in December, all while playing what she describes as "Rehab golf", Sorenstam is so keen to get off to a quick start that she has signed up to play from the very start of the 2008 season, taking in the opening two events in Hawaii so as to be ready for the US$2 million HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore an event that the Swede agrees will identify the season's early frontrunners.

"Oh absolutely!" she declares. "You're just going to have champions there. It's an elite field early in the year, so it's going to be a prestigious event in many ways. The tournament in Singapore is going to be great and HSBC is a great supporter of women's golf. I'm starting out in Hawaii and that's a statement in itself, because normally I start out in March. That means when I get to Singapore I'll have two tournaments under my belt already. So I think that shows the commitment and that I'm going to go hard this year."

For the first time since her 1994 Rookie year, Sorenstam failed to record an LPGA victory in 2007 leaving her stalled on 69 wins and 10 Majors. But the Hall-of-Famer still describes 2007 season in positive terms having got engaged to Mike McGee, the MD of the "Annika" brand, and launched eponymous ventures including an academy and a Cutter & Buck clothing line as well as her own foundation.

"It's given me space and perspective; a little bit of balance in my life," she says. "I'm not worried about last year at all. It was a great year. I was busy and it's been very successful off the course, which to me is very important as well. To me it's not just about the competing part, it's about me as a person and my private life all coming together and it was a great year for that."

Balancing the demands of her new businesswoman persona with that of wrestling her crown back is "a matter of priorities", and might prove easier than overcoming the two rivals who emerged in her absence: Lorena Ochoa, whose eight LPGA wins made her the world number one, and Suzann Pettersen, who broke through in 2007 with five victories.

"My short term goal is just to get back to playing at the level that I know how," she explains.

"Obviously Lorena's playing great, Suzann's playing great. I don't know how my performance would rank but I do know I haven't played my best for a year and a half and that's my goal. I want to play Annika-level golf. That's my goal."

That said, Sorenstam can't resist warning her rivals - in the nicest possible way - that she's coming to get them.

"I love the competition and I'm a good friend of Suzann and I'm a good friend of Lorena. They are both great people and I'm happy for them, but I am competitive and once I'm out there I want to beat them. I love to be at the top and there's nothing better than feeling, when you come down the stretch, the adrenaline that pumps. That's what I look for.

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