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Sorenstam hopes to avoid winless season

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Going into the final tournament of the year, Annika Sorenstam is hoping to end a dismal season on a positive note.

Sorenstam, who lost her No. 1 ranking this year after battling injuries, has one last chance to avoid her first winless season since her 1994 rookie year when she begins the defense of her Dubai Ladies Masters title on Thursday.

"I would definitely like to win," said Sorenstam, who finished at 18 under to win by six shots last year. "I feel quite comfortable on this golf course, so that's good. It has been a very difficult year for me, but to finish it off with a victory would be just great."

Sorenstam, who was 69 career victories on the LPGA Tour, was sidelined for more than two months because of a neck injury and is currently third on the world rankings, losing the top spot to Lorena Ochoa of Mexico.

But at the Majlis course of the Emirates Golf Club, where she could do no wrong in the inaugural championship last year, the Swede is hoping good memories and the fact that she is feeling fully fit will see her return to top form.

"But there is absolutely no pressure on me," she said. "I have just started playing decent golf in the last couple of months, and I am feeling much better on the golf course. All I want to do is play as well as I know I can, and hopefully, be in contention coming down the stretch on Sunday."

Sorenstam faces a tough field in the 500,000 (US$734,000) season-ending tournament of the Ladies European Tour. Among others in contention this week are Natalie Gulbis and Laura Davies, who is the defending Order of Merit champion.

In contrast to Sorenstam, Gulbis has had a breakthrough year, winning her first LPGA Tour title at the Evian Masters.

"I wish 2007 never ends for me," said Gulbis, who is making her first appearance in Dubai. "The victory in France was great and it was a just reward for the all the hard work I have put in all these years. ... Ever since that win, I feel so much more confident. I now know that I can go out there and win tournaments."

Germany's Bettina Hauert and Sweden's Sophie Gustafson are the front-runners for the 2007 Order of Merit title, but all the top 10 players on the European money list are still in the running, with the winner in Dubai picking up 75,000 (US$110,000).

Hauert leads the list with 218,588 (US$320,000), with Gustafson second with 214,756 (US$315,000) in just six starts.

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