SUNNINGDALE, England (AP) — With her powerful sense of competitive pride, Annika Sorenstam knows that none of her rivals will step aside at the Women’s British Open just so she can win her final major.
The Swede who dominated women’s golf for a decade is out to win her 11th major before she bows out at the end of the season.
“I would love to win here,” Sorenstam said. “It’s the only major that I haven’t won two or three times. If I could win this week then I would say I’ve pretty much achieved everything that I possibly can.”
The strongest field ever assembled for the British championship is trying to keep her from that goal, however, and Sorenstam has a lot of work to do after shooting an even-par 72 in the opening round.
Juli Inkster took the lead on Thursday morning with a seven-under 65 that included an eagle on the par-4 ninth hole. Defending champion Lorena Ochoa, looking for her second major of the year, shot three-under 69. Yuri Fudoh, Momoko Ueda and Ji-Yai Shin were tied for second at six under. (Updates at lpga.com).
Paula Creamer has won three titles this season, and before Helen Alfredsson won the Evian Masters on Sunday South Korean players had won five of the previous events on the LPGA Tour.
With 31 South Koreans facing 31 Americans in a field of 144, Sorenstam hopes it’s a Swede who comes out on top and that she adds to the British Open triumph she captured at Royal Lytham in 2003.
Although she admits that she now lacks the motivation to carry on playing and practicing week after week, she said she has not lost her competitive edge.
“My expectations are always high. I believe in myself and I know I can play this golf course,” Sorenstam said. “But the competition is tough and you just don’t know. But I’m going to try and stay as competitive as possible.”
Ochoa returns as the defending champion, having won her first major at St. Andrews a year ago when the tournament was played for the first time at the home of golf.
The Mexican was under some pressure of her own, with critics wondering at the time why the top-ranked player in the world had not yet won a major.
“I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of time and I just needed to stay patient,” Ochoa said Wednesday. “It was not for me a lot of pressure and relief, it was more something that I knew was going to happen. I have a lot of faith in my game.”
Ochoa had won 12 titles before she went to St. Andrews. Now her record is two majors and 23 titles.
“It really put me in a different position as a player and also for other players to see my level of golf,” she said. “And so that’s what I’m trying to repeat this year.”
Americans haven’t won any of the last four majors since Cristie Kerr won the 2007 U.S. Open and Creamer appears to be the leading contender in Sunningdale.
She said that the par-72, 6,408-yard course has a lush, green appearance with tall trees lining the sloping fairways. That’s far different from the flat, open St. Andrews links from last year.
“This golf course is like playing in the States but, at the same time, there’s so many different shots you can play from everywhere,” said Creamer, who hasn’t missed a cut this season and has finished in the top 10 in five of her last six tournaments.
“Your creativity and your imagination has to really come out this week.”
Leta Lindley, the only other American to win a tournament on the LPGA Tour this season, is also in a field that also includes the only American to have won three British Open titles, Sherri Steinhauer.
Morgan Pressel has yet to win a title since last year’s triumph at the Kraft Nabisco, which means her only tournament victory so far is a major. The same also applies to Inbee Park, who won the Women’s U.S. Open, and Yani Tseng, who won the LPGA Championship.
But Tseng has had three runner-up finishes this season, including at the State Farm Classic two weeks ago where Michelle Wie, one off the lead with a round to go, was disqualified for failing to sign her card in the second round.
Wie hasn’t made it to England, pulling out of qualifying and deciding instead to play on the men’s PGA Tour at the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open in Nevada.