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Sorenstam, Hurst will lock horns for crown

Monday, July 3, 2006

(Photo)
Annika Sorenstam took a drop on the seventh hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Women's Open golf championship Sunday.
(Associated Press)
Both players needed 144 strokes to cover 36 holes Sunday, setting up today's 18-hole playoff.

NEWPORT, R.I. -- The birdie putt played a dirty trick on Annika Sorenstam, raising her hopes that 10 years of frustration in the U.S. Women's Open was about to end.

Tied for the lead with Pat Hurst on the final hole of a marathon Sunday, she took two quick strides to her right as the 30-foot putt tracked toward the hole, her eyes wide as the ball dipped into the cup ever so slightly, then dipped out just as suddenly.

"It looked good for a long time," Sorenstam said.

Now, she gets one more day at Newport Country Club, an 18-hole playoff against Hurst to decide the biggest prize in women's golf.

Hurst did her part, making a superb par save from 20 yards short of the 18th green by holing a 5-foot putt.

"I'd die for this," Hurst said. "This is what we live for."

They played 36 holes together on a warm, blustery afternoon along the Atlantic shore, both taking 144 shots and settling nothing.

Hurst tumbled out of the lead with a 75 in the third round Sunday morning, then posted a 2-under 69 in the final round, matching the best score of the tournament. Sorenstam shot 73 in the morning, and was headed for an ugly collapse -- 4 over in three holes -- until scratching her way back to the top of the leaderboard.

They finished at even-par 284, both spending nearly 11 hours on the golf course.

"OK, Pat, see you tomorrow," Sorenstam said she told her.

The other two LPGA Tour majors this year also ended in a playoff, with Karrie Webb winning the Kraft Nabisco on the first extra hole and Se Ri Pak winning the LPGA Championship with a 4-iron utility to 2 inches on the first sudden-death playoff hole.

This one is 18 holes of stroke play starting at 9 a.m., the first at the U.S. Women's Open since 2003.

Michelle Wie won't be around this time, either, although she had her chances.

The 16-year-old from Hawaii was tied for the lead with six holes to play until failing to save par from a bunker on the 13th hole, then making pars the rest of the way. She closed with a 72 and tied for third with Pak and Stacy Prammanasudh at 2-over 286.

Juli Inkster, among five players tied for the lead at one point during the long day at Newport, lost her hope of becoming the oldest major champion in women's golf when she three-putted for bogey on the par-3 16th. She closed with a 73 and finished at 287.

As for the playoff, the advantage goes to Sorenstam.

Along with being the No. 1 player in women's golf with 67 victories and nine majors (Hurst has five victories and one major), the Swede is 14-5 in playoffs, twice making Hurst her victim.

"I'm right where I want to be," Sorenstam said. "Let's do something about it."

They have homes near Lake Tahoe, and a small piece of acrimony in the Solheim Cup. Hurst was playing with Kelly Robbins at Loch Lomond in 2000 when Sorenstam holed a 25-foot chip for birdie, and the Americans made her play the shot again when they determined Sorenstam went out of turn.

"I think everything has been cleared away, and we get along great now," Hurst said.

It looked like a playoff would not be necessary when Sorenstam holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 15th to tie Hurst for the lead, then pulled one shot ahead with a 20-foot birdie on the 16th.

But on the par-3 17th, Sorenstam hit a 6-iron that hopped hard and wound up some 30 yards beyond the hole and over the green. She chipped 8 feet past the cup and missed her par putt, leaving them tied going to the 18th.

Hurst caught a huge break when her tee shot landed just beyond a small creek and she had a decent lie in the thick rough. But the best she could do was run the ball toward the green, and it came up 40 yards short of the hole. She chipped 5 feet from the pin, then had to wait to see if Sorenstam would deliver another stunning finish at an LPGA Tour major this year.

Not yet.

The 35-year-old Swede started walking to the right in anticipation of the putt dropping, and when it caught a portion of the right lip of the cup, Sorenstam covered her head in disbelief.

"I knew by her reaction it was pretty darn close," Hurst said.

Wie felt she was close, too. It was the second straight year the phenom was in a three-way tie for the lead at the U.S. Women's Open, getting there with a 71 in the morning third round after a 10-foot birdie putt dangled on the lip.

Unlike a year ago at Cherry Hills in Colorado, when she stumbled to an 82, Wie stuck around to the very end.

She ended 21 holes without a birdie by making a 15-footer on the 12th to bring her back to 1 over for the tournament, tied with Hurst and Sorenstam. But on the par-3 13th, her stinger 5-wood leaked into the muddy bunker and led to bogey. The best she could manage were pars the rest of the way, her hopes ending on the 549-yard 16th when she tried to reach the green in two and came up short in a bunker.

Wie has finished a combined five shots out of the lead in the first three majors this year.

"A shot here and there," Wie said. "I'm just getting closer and closer. I've got to work on a couple of things and I'm right there."

Despite the heartbreaking miss, Sorenstam was plenty happy.

She was in control after birdies on her first two holes of the final round gave her a two-shot lead, but it came undone quickly. First, she pulled a short iron from 132 yards into the water on No. 7 to make double bogey and slip back into a tie. Then came two tentative par putts from 5 and 3 feet on the next two holes, both missing badly.

And when Hurst chipped in for birdie on No. 8, Sorenstam was three shots behind.

"I kept telling myself, 'It's a long way to go, just be patient,"' Sorenstam said. "The back nine is tough, especially with the wind, especially playing 36 holes in one day. You cannot give up."

For all the birdies Hurst has made this week at Newport, it was a par that meant the most.

"The feelings that you get, it's indescribable," she said of her par putt. "To have that chance to make that putt and make it to go into a playoff, it's something you dream about."

She'll wake up in the morning and face 18 holes against Sorenstam, with $560,000 on the line.

Along with that grand prize, Hurst can score a rare trifecta -- joining Joanne Carner as the only players to win the U.S. Junior Girls, U.S. Women's Amateur and U.S. Women's Open.


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