Among the many reasons to prefer the LPGA to the PGA Tour is because the best women always seem to be in the mix at the most important events, as opposed to the other tour, where entire seasons can go by without a meaningful battle of the big boys. Last week’s duel between would-be fifth majors was a case in point. The Players Championship offered an ugly scrum between two journeymen (Paul Goydos and Jeff Quinney) and one putative headliner who in reality hadn’t won a thing in years (Sergio Garcia). At the Michelob Ultra Open — “our Players Championship,” according to Annika Sorenstam — the LPGA served up an excess of star power, intrigue and dazzling golf.
The first two rounds at the Michelob featured a blockbuster group of Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Petterson, the three best players in the women’s game (with apologies to Paula Creamer). The matchup of Sorenstam versus Ochoa was particularly juicy, pitting the past and present No. 1-ranked players against each other, and both met expectations during a lively first round in which Ochoa’s 65 wasn’t good enough, leaving her one back of Sorenstam and two in arrears of Mhairi McKay, who tied the River course record at Kingsmill Resort & Spa in Williamsburg, Va.
Sorenstam kept her foot on the gas during round 2, shooting a 66 to take the lead, three in front of Ochoa. It was a display of vintage precision by Annika, who didn’t make a bogey over the opening 36 holes. Following the first round, she was asked if she was trying to prove something to the woman who has supplanted her in the rankings. “It’s not about making a statement; it’s about playing good golf,” she said, but no one believed her.
Sorenstam and Ochoa went at it again in Saturday’s final pairing, and 37-year-old Annika seemed to break her 26-year-old rival’s will by scrambling relentlessly in cold, misty, windy conditions. Her 69 put her three up on the field and eight in front of a down-in-the-mouth Ochoa, who drove the ball erratically and struggled all day with her speed on the greens en route to a 74.
Sorenstam capped her seven-stroke victory with a spectacular back nine on Sunday, during which she made five birdies. “That is probably as good as I can hit my iron shots,” she said. Her aggregate 19 under was a tournament record.
This was Sorenstam’s third win of the year but, more important, the first with Ochoa in the field. Finally healthy and motivated after a year and a half compromised by injuries and off-course pursuits, Sorenstam says, “I can’t wait for the next month or so to come with the big tournaments and the majors. I’m excited.”
The season just got a lot more interesting, at least on one tour.