If she has no chance, then why all the fuss?

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

David Duval played in two exhibitions with Annika Sorenstam the last two years and knows her game as well as any PGA Tour player.

"I wish I could hit the ball that straight," he said. "It's impressive."

While he respects her considerable skills, Duval thinks it will be supremely difficult for Sorenstam to make the cut next week at Colonial, when she becomes the first woman in 58 years to venture onto PGA Tour soil.

That's why he was so perplexed Monday night to hear such an outcry from Vijay Singh and a few others who think Sorenstam doesn't belong and doesn't have a chance.

"I don't know what everyone is so worried about," Duval said. "If they think she can't make the cut, that's one less person to beat, isn't it?"

Sympathy already is being extended to three groups of players at the Colonial:

  • The two guys paired with Sorenstam in the first two rounds, who will feel the spotlight of Sunday afternoon on the back nine at a major championship.

  • The three guys playing in front of her, who will have to cope with hundreds of reporters and photographers scrambling for position along the fairways behind them.

  • Anyone who finishes behind her on the scoreboard.

    "If you're paying attention to Annika that week, then you're missing the cut," said Olin Browne, a past champion at Colonial. "The most important thing is to play your own game and forget about everything else."

    Colonial isn't the place to keep score, although defending champion Nick Price didn't dismiss the possibility of several PGA Tour players getting beaten by a woman.

    "Golf is a tough game," he said. "We're used to being beaten. It's like marathon runners. There are girls who beat them all the time. If someone can beat me, I'll take my hat off and shake their hand.

    "But I'm sure for a lot of guys, it will be tough."

    Efforts to reach Sorenstam through her agent Tuesday were unsuccessful.

    Duval and Sorenstam tied in December when they played an exhibition in Mexico with Jack Nicklaus and Lorena Ochoa. Duval lost to her at the "Battle at Bighorn" two years ago, although they had partners in the alternate shot match -- Sorenstam's was Tiger Woods.

    If anyone finishes behind Sorenstam, it won't be the first time a woman beat a man on a level golf course.

    As recently as January, Michelle Wie played in a Monday qualifier for the Sony Open and shot a 1-over 73. She missed by seven shots, although she still tied for 47th in a field of 96 men and one eighth-grade girl.

    "There are a lot of guys who got beat by a 13-year-old girl," said Andy Miller, who wasn't among them after a 66.

    The most notable came in the 1961 Royal Poinciana Invitational, a 54-hole exhibition on a par-3 course in south Florida where 12 women and 12 men played from the same set of tees. The winner was Louise Suggs, who beat the likes of Sam Snead, Dow Finsterwald and Cary Middlecoff.

    "I don't think it was a big deal," Finsterwald, a former PGA champion, said from his home in Colorado. "I don't remember much about it. It wasn't an official tournament."

    He has a better recollection of the time he and Arnold Palmer played in Las Vegas against Barbara Romack and Mickey Wright at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

    Finsterwald and Palmer arrived a week early. He remembers how they converted the golf course into a par 3 by cutting tees in the middle of the fairway.

    "That was too big of a spot that we gave them," Finsterwald said.

    Because the women played from the fairway?

    "No," he said. "We had been in Vegas for seven days. And they beat us."

    The Colonial won't be fun and games, which is why Price said giving Sorenstam a sponsor's exemption "reeks of publicity," and one reason Singh emphasized his opposition with an empty threat.

    "If I'm drawn with her, which I won't be, I won't play," Singh said, knowing that their names will be drawn from different categories. He is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour; she is a sponsor's exemption with no standing.

    That only makes everyone drool over the prospect of Sorenstam making the cut and getting a Saturday tee time with Singh. It might even be better than the second round of the '98 Masters, when Fuzzy Zoeller played with Tiger Woods one year after his "fried chicken and collard greens" comment.

    Duval would like to see Sorenstam make the cut, but he isn't betting on it.

    He isn't skeptical about her skills, only the stage.

    "Because of her ability, I wouldn't be surprised if she shot 71 to 74," Duval said. "Because of the circumstance, I wouldn't be surprised if she shot 77 to 81. Her biggest challenge is playing like she's capable. If she does, I think she has a very good chance to make the cut."

    And if she does?

    "You would have to look at it like a sub-60 round, or maybe four straight rounds in the 60s at the U.S. Open," Duval said.

    And a lot of guys -- Singh, in particular -- would look very foolish.

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