Sorenstam may not be finished at U.S. Open

EDINA, Minn. (AP) — This wasn't exactly the way Annika Sorenstam thought it would end, if this actually was the end. It might not be, because Sorenstam conceded earlier this week there was an outside chance we may not have seen the last of her in the U.S. Women's Open just quite yet.

For now, though, the plans of the greatest female player of her generation are to retire at the end of the year and start a family before her biological clock ticks down. Unless they change, this was the last time she would play in the Open championship she won three times in her storied career.

A few groups behind her on a windy Sunday at Interlachen Country Club, a teenager from South Korea was on her way to a final round romp to become the youngest Open winner ever. Sorenstam was once that kind of player, but at the age of 37 her desire to play golf for a living is waning at the same time her desire to have children and do more normal things grows.

She wanted to leave here in style, cradling her fourth Open trophy before heading overseas for her final major championship at the British Open. She hit the ball well enough to do just that, but the putter wouldn't cooperate and her emotional tank had long since run dry.

Now she stood on the 18th fairway, 199 yards from the last hole of a championship that helped define her career. With a 6-iron in her hand, she needed to get up-and-down just to avoid embarrassing herself by not being able to break 80

Then the player who had always dreamed of a perfect day on the golf course got the next best thing - a perfect ending to her Open career.

The shot sailed majestically toward the green, bounced once just in front and a few more times before sliding into the right side of the hole. From the fairway, Sorenstam heard the roar grow as the ball got closer and dropped into the hole for an eagle 3.

She had saved her best for last. And the fans, it seems, had saved their love for last.

They cheered her as she walked up the fairway arm-in-arm with her caddie. They called out for her to come back for another year.

And finally they stood as one to give her a farewell that should have reduced her to tears.

It didn't, perhaps because there just wasn't anything left inside to cry about. She was never the emotional sort anyway, something which may have prevented her from connecting with fans in a more personal way over the years.

A day earlier, Sorenstam said she felt like crying, but that was only because her birdie putts kept missing the hole. She always seemed cold and calculating on the course, largely because that was how she needed to play to win, but she could also usually count on an emotional reserve that is much harder to find now.

"My tank is empty," Sorenstam said. "You need adrenaline, you need energy. It's just very hard to run just on fumes. You can only take it so far."

Sorenstam has been running on fumes for quite some time now, looking little like the player who dominated women's golf so totally that when she didn't win it came as a surprise.

The game is still there, even if the burning desire isn't. Indeed, Sorenstam was the best from tee to green in the first three rounds in this Open before it all came apart on a final day when her usual laser-like drives found the rough and trees instead of the center of the fairway.

She has other things in her life now, a new fiance, a golf tournament of her own, and business ventures on the side. When she announced in May that she would not play past this year it came as a shock to many but little surprise to those who could see she no longer had the drive to be the best.

It was that drive that helped her win 11 tournaments in one year, be as dominate on the women's tour as Tiger Woods is on the PGA Tour, and give her the confidence to play - and play well - with the men. She always thought she could do better, and subscribed to the philosophy that a perfect round of 18 birdies on a golf course was entirely possible.

Sorenstam never had that round, but she came close. She is the only woman to shoot a 59 competitively, and still plays a special Callaway ball with that number stamped on it.

She'll go down as the best of her time, but is not ready to have her career obituary written just quite yet. She's got one more major and another eight or nine tournaments left as she plays out the string this year.

After that, it's goodbye, though Sorenstam insisted she was not looking for a victory tour or one last lap around the world when she announced her retirement.

She leaves with enough Open memories to last a lifetime, both good and bad. She's won three of them, but lost at least that many that she thought she should have won.

This may have been one of them, though she had nothing left in her when she really needed it.

The only consolation was she was able to make one more special memory at the end.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

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