HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Annika Sorenstam still gets the largest contingent of burly tactical force cops at the LPGA Championship. They're waiting for her when she finishes any round, ready to surround the woman, who served as the Tour's lifeline long before any of the kids came along, and whisk her away from any trouble.
What that trouble could be is anybody's guess. Maybe a 6-year-old will lunge over and touch Annika with sticky hands?
"What are all these cops suddenly here for?" a fan asked from behind the ropes surrounding the scorer's tent. "One, two, three, four, five. Is the President here or something?"
Sorenstam doesn't need the large show of force anymore. The jostle to get near Michelle Wie far out measures any current Annika fever. In truth, the other young would-be celebs of the LPGA Tour - Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and the absent Natalie Gulbis - trigger much more chaos from beyond the ropes these days (and that is women's golf chaos, not European soccer chaos by a million stretches).
None of this matters though. Sorenstam gets the burly band as a sign of respect. She's big on that kind of thing. Don't let her quiet cool throughout all these years fool you. This is one of the proudest, most stubborn athletes in the world.
Annika didn't win those 10 majors on talent alone. She doesn't just let Wie know when she feels disrespected. She'll get in a tournament official's face if she believes its necessary. You don't treat Sorenstam below what she thinks her standing warrants and not hear about it. And people tend to remember an Annika berating.
There's more junkyard dog in Annika Sorenstam than you'd ever think just watching her out on the golf course.
"Annika is just so competitive," LPGA Tour veteran Michele Redman said. "That's one of the things I think that's really underrated about her. Her competitiveness. She has that drive that she's not going to let herself fail."
Sorenstam will rip your heart out and smile. Though probably not for very long. She can be moody and merciless. Like all the greats. Sorenstam and Tiger Woods share more than just that overblown marketing story of their text messaging trash talk.
It's more noticeable than ever on Pete Dye's Bulle Rock course with the LPGA's second major of the year on the line. Sorenstam is pulling off her version of Isiah Thomas' record 25-point NBA Finals fourth quarter on a busted ankle. She's willing herself into a tournament, a major no less, she really has no business having a shot at.
With her back and neck continuing to bother her, with a nine iron in her bag for the first time in forever because her distance is off, Sorenstam still tees off at 2:13 this afternoon at 5-under, just three shots back of solitary, shaky leader Suzann Pettersen.
This is women's golf, so the feat will get less notice than a Growing Pains reunion. Still, there's no doubt what Sorenstam's doing far exceeds Michael Jordan's completely overblown - and mostly Jordan created - "flu game" in the NBA Finals.
She has actual injures. (This isn't Wie - Sorenstam's track record screams that you can believe whatever she says about her health). She's only in her second tournament since going out with a back injury in April. Yet, she continues to post birdies, by skill and will, refusing to concede anything to all the pretty young girls in short golf skirts.
Even today, maybe especially today, Sorenstam plays to hold off tomorrow. The rankings say she's no longer No. 1 and the marketing mavens say she is long gone as her game's It Girl.
I wrote a story almost two years ago about how the LPGA Tour's youth movement threatened to pass Sorenstam by. Many other stories in many other places have advanced the same notion over these months of supposed transition.
Only Sorenstam is still swinging, still grinding down opponents with the strength of her steel cage mind.
"Even Annika was struggling to win majors for a while," Tour veteran Laura Davies said, going back to the early days. "But once she broke through, you weren't going to be able to stop her. She's relentless."
Sorenstam's been playing it coy at Bulle Rock, discounting her chances, even as she sits right there, tied with It Girls Creamer and Pressel. She estimates she's at "85 percent."
"I'm just happy to have two rounds under par," she reports.
It's believable - as long as you don't step on the golf course.
For there's Annika giving a big fist pump on No. 18 (her ninth hole of the second round) when a long putt snakes in. There's Annika sinking a downhill putt no one else could find all day on No. 9, almost playing to a roaring crowd.
You can see how much she wants this, how the emotion's coming out with more force than ever before. Talk about your last stands. If Sorenstam can win this, under these circumstances, the rest of the Tour might never get her out of their heads.
Sorenstam's spark returns when asked if it's hard not to think of herself as a contender as she claimed she doesn't.
"I'm a competitor," she fires back. "And I might be a little injured physically, but let me tell you, mentally I'm not. I'm probably as strong as ever. That's what keeps me going."
Just happy with two rounds under par? Yeah right.
Annika Sorenstam is Tony Soprano sitting in that darkened upstairs bedroom holding a shotgun, waiting for someone to come through the door. If you're anyone else in this field, you don't want to see her on Sunday night either.
June 9, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Anyone looking back at the final scores of the 2009 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusion that this was a comfortable three-shot win for Catriona Matthew. It was anything but as the seemingly imperturbable Scot struggled to hit a fairway throughout the final round and was only rescued by some superb recovery shots and a bunch of astonishing long putts.
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