Annika Sorenstam Annika Sorenstam eyeing final major at Ricoh Women's British Open - or is she?

Don't be too quick to use the "R-word" when talking about Annika Sorenstam's future.

While plenty has been made about this week's Ricoh Women's British Open being the final major of Sorenstam's illustrious career, she's quick to point out that she only said she's stepping away from professional golf at the end of the year and not retiring. The decision might not be permanent.

"The door is not closed, and that's why I didn't use the 'R-word,'" Sorenstam told reporters. "I said I'm stepping away, and all of my sponsors are staying with me. Maybe they are hoping that I'm going to come back, so I'm going to continue to be involved with golf, either through the Annika Academy or these golf tournaments I'll be hosting and so forth.

"So I'll be keeping my game alive. Maybe not to the extent where it is today, but I will be still swinging and doing clinics and so forth."

However, Sorenstam declined to speculate just how long her sabbatical may last.

"I want to finish this year first," Sorenstam said. "I want to start the next chapter in my life and we'll see what happens. If I get the urge, then I know I can come back."

Sorenstam is looking to win her 12th major title this week at Sunningdale Golf Club in England. However, the Swede faces a deep and talented field of players that includes defending champion and world No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa.

Although Ochoa has eclipsed Sorenstam as the top women's player in the world, she said she still looks up to Sorenstam and appreciates the way she dominated the sport for a decade.

"We respect her a lot, and for sure it's something that makes us think how different it is going to be on the tour without her, and how much she has given us and golf," Ochoa said of Sorenstam. "Like any other player, I wish her the best in the next stage in her life. She helped me a lot and motivated me a lot and was a great inspiration to me and I thank her for all of the great memories."

Sorenstam certainly has plenty of those. Even though her only Women's British Open victory came in 2003 at Royal Lytham, she said she loves the event.

"It is my last one, and it's going to be emotional," Sorenstam said. "I think it's mixed emotions because I'm happy to be here. I've always liked the British Open and I've always liked Sunningdale, so I'm looking forward to the week."

No longer in her prime and no longer burning with the desire to get up each day and practice quite as much as she used to, Sorenstam said her expectations for herself remain high.

"I believe in myself and I know I can play this golf course, but the competition is tough and you just don't know," Sorenstam said. "I would love to play well here, but you know, it's not the end of the world."

Whether or not Sorenstam decides to return to the LPGA Tour, she said she couldn't have ever imagined just how successful her career would be.

"Looking at the LPGA [media guide] right there, and I have several pages," Sorenstam said. "I would have been happy with a photo and a bio ... some of my stats, but I've got five pages."

Ricoh Women's British Open

SCHEDULE: Thursday-Sunday
SITE: Sunningdale, England
COURSE: Sunningdale Golf Club (6,408 yards, par 72).
PURSE: $2.1 million. Winner's share: $320,000.
TV: TNT (Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-noon EDT) and ABC (Saturday, 1:30-3 p.m. EDT; Sunday, 1-3 p.m. EDT)

July 31, 2008

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