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Sorenstam has one last chance for a victory

Photo: Chip English/AP

Annika Sorenstam missed two months with injuries.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — This might be as true as any measure of Annika Sorenstam's year. At the U.S. LPGA Tour's season-ending ADT Championship, she didn't even get an audience with the Donald.

Donald Trump has been the unofficial host of this event since it came to his Trump International course six years ago. He usually plays the pro-am with the top player on the U.S. LPGA Tour, which usually is Sorenstam.

But not anymore.

It was not surprising for him to play on Wednesday with Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in women's golf whose season has been so dominant that even with a record $1 million (680,000) going to the winner, the Mexican star still has the money title locked up.

The real surprise is Sorenstam.

Who could have ever imagined that a player who has averaged nearly eight victories a year since 2001 would arrive at the ADT Championship trying to avoid her first winless season since she was a soft-spoken rookie in 1994?

Or that she qualified only last week for the 32-player event that she has won four times?

"It's not a year that is something you really put on a resume," Sorenstam said.

But there's a good reason for her becoming just another face on the U.S. LPGA Tour this year. Sorenstam was diagnosed with back and neck injuries in April after a lackluster start to her season, and she wound up missing nearly two months of competition. Even when she returned at her Ginn Tribute, and for the final three majors, she was hardly at full strength.

And the landscape of the U.S. LPGA Tour changed before her eyes.

First came Ochoa, replacing her at No. 1 in the world ranking this spring and stretching her lead to leave no doubt who's the best. Then came Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who won her first major among five U.S. LPGA titles this year.

Sorenstam is stuck on 69 victories, still third on the career list in U.S. LPGA history. For most of this decade, her only rival seemed to be Kathy Whitworth and her record 88 victories, and most thought it was only a matter of time before Sorenstam caught her.

"It wasn't until those few years when I was really hot and I was winning events that I thought, 'Well, maybe that's even possible.' Now, it's just getting back to the game and even trying to win one event," Sorenstam said. "Right now, I don't really have that in my sights. It's not something that motivates me. I'm focusing on next season and giving it my all."

She still has one last shot.

The ADT Championship presents perhaps the quirkiest format of any tour. The field will be cut to 16 players after two rounds, and the slate will be wiped clean. Another cut will be made after the third round on Saturday to eight players, and again their scores will be erased. Sunday brings an 18-hole shootout.

Sorenstam was never crazy about the winner-take-almost-everything format when it was created, knowing that someone could get hot for one round and beat her out of the money title. No need to worry about that now.

She has played a career-low 12 times because of her injury, and a tie for third last week moved her up to No. 25 on the money list. It was the first time all year she has strung together three straight top 10s, and Sorenstam is starting to get back into a groove.

Sorenstam has said she has only felt competitive in five tournaments she has played this year, and it's tough enough to win on the U.S. LPGA Tour even at 100 percent strength.

"I'm going to play the best I can this week, but it's not do-or-die if I don't win," she said. "Like I said, I'm just happy to be here playing. The expectations are a lot more different than they were last year."

Sorenstam won't call the year a complete loss.

Wearing a neck brace, she opened her academy at the Ginn Reunion Resort in Orlando in April. She is designing two golf courses. And she got engaged. Off the course, it's been one of her best years.

The question is whether she can find the drive to hit full speed inside the ropes again. She met with all her sponsors last month and told them that she would step away early next year and concentrate fully on golf.

"I do feel like I have kind of come to the back nine of my career," Sorenstam said. "I've done a lot, and I'm satisfied in a lot of things. I've achieved so much more than I ever thought I could. Yeah, there are times when I have to kick myself a little bit and go out there, but I think the injury has kind of helped me to spark the interest a little bit again.

"I want to find the top of my game. That's my priority now."

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