KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Annika Sorenstam is in a position she’s been in many times — on the verge of winning. She just hasn’t been there for a while.
“I feel good about my game and I’m hungry,” said Sorenstam, coming off an injury-shortened season where she failed to win for the first time since her rookie season in 1994. “I’ve missed being at the top and winning tournaments. That’s why I play.”
Down to No. 4 in the world after years in the top spot, Sorenstam birdied five of the final seven holes for a 5-under 67 and a share of the lead heading into Saturday’s final round of the LPGA Tour’s season-opening SBS Open.
“Today, I’m in control of my game. I feel I’m the boss out there,” she said. “I’m hitting where I want to hit it and that’s been a while.”
Sorenstam pumped her fist, flashed a smile and waved to the roaring gallery after sinking an uphill 11-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to match 23-year-old Erica Blasberg (68) at 7-under 137.
They were a stroke ahead of Japanese rookie Momoko Ueda (67), Jane Park (68), Laura Diaz (68) and 10-time winner Cristie Kerr (69). Players enjoyed a second day of mostly calm conditions at Turtle Bay with the wind picking up slightly late in the day.
Sorenstam is seeking her 70th LPGA Tour win, and first since the State Farm Classic in September 2006. She has led going into the final round 69 times and has won 46 of those events. The last time was when she took a three-shot lead over Lorena Ochoa at the 2006 Samsung World Championship. She closed with a 70 and finished second.
“I’ve missed being in contention. I missed being in the last group,” Sorenstam said. “I think that gave me a little energy and obviously it was important to feel like it’s turning around.”
Sorenstam, overcame a double bogey on the 180-yard fourth hole and surged up the leaderboard with six birdies in the final 10 holes.
The 11-footer on the final hole was the longest of her birdie putts on the back nine. She also chipped in for birdie from 22 feet on the par-5 third and tapped in for birdie on the par-5 ninth.
It was hard to tell Sorenstam was coming off one of her most trying years as a pro.
The 37-year-old Swede is healthy, focused and driven to reclaim the No. 1 ranking after being limited to 13 events last year because of neck and back injuries.
She had six top-10s finishes in 2007, but wasn’t able to add to her trophy collection, which made her reflect on winning and “put things in perspective.”
The time off allowed her to open her golf academy, build golf courses and start her charitable foundation.
Winning is the only thing on her mind this year.
She’s enjoying golf and feels no pressure, despite the emergence of Ochoa and other younger stars.
“To be at the top, you have to play some good golf,” she said. “The key for me now is to start playing some golf again, hit some fairways, hit some greens, make some birdies, be in contention and win some tournaments. That’s how you get to the top.”
Sorenstam is playing at Turtle Bay for the first time and beginning her season a month earlier than usual. She’s making her first appearance in Hawaii since winning the 2002 LPGA Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa.
While Sorenstam caught her groove on the back side, Blasberg made her move on the front. Seeking her first win in 57 career starts, Blasberg opened with a three-putt bogey and made three birdies in a seven-hole span to reach 6 under at the turn.
The Californian holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 14th for the outright lead before Sorenstam’s birdie on 18.
Lindsey Wright was at 5 under after a 70.
First-round leader Kelli Kuehne began the day at 5 under with a one-stroke lead over Jacqueline Yang and couldn’t get anything going. She had two double bogeys and three bogeys for a frustrating 79. She was 2 over.
Yang (72) remained at 4 under and was tied for eighth in a group that included 2007 rookie of the year Angela Park (65), In-Kyung Kim (70), Ji-Yai Shin (69), Sherri Steinhauer (71), Russy Gulyanamitta (69) and Na On Min (67).
Defending champion Paula Creamer was 1 under after a 73.
The winner will earn $165,000 of the $1.1 million purse.