Meet Mrs. 59


PHOENIX, AP

The final putt was 15.25 centimeters (6 inches), only it looked a lot longer to Annika Sorenstam because of what was at stake — golf’s magic number and a major breakthrough for women’s golf. Sorenstam tapped it in for a 59 and rushed into the arms of her caddie as several LPGA Tour players gathered around the ninth green at Moon Valley Country Club to celebrate history Friday in the Arizona desert. With birdies on 12 of her first 13 holes and a routine par at the end, Sorenstam became the first woman to break 60 in official competition. “I’m overwhelmed,” Sorenstam said. “I can’t believe what I just did.” She broke the LPGA scoring record of 61 by two strokes, and broke into territory previously held only by the men. Meet Mrs. 59. “I think it shows we can play,” Sorenstam said. “There’s some good scoring out there and I wish people can see that. They might say we’re not playing at 7,000 yards (6,370 meters), but you still have to get the ball in the hole. And I think the girls out here, we do a good job of that.” No one on the LPGA Tour has ever done it better. The previous mark was a 61 held by Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. The 30-year-old Swede also set an LPGA Tour record for 36 holes with a 20-under 124, breaking by three strokes the record set by Webb last year in East Lansing, Michigan. “It was an incredible day. I had a lot of thoughts in my head. I was trying to stay calm and hit good shots, trying to hit it straight every time.” Sorenstam started her round on the back nine with birdies on the first eight holes, second-best in LPGA history behind the nine in a row by Beth Daniel two years ago. She finished with a 28 on the front nine, then birdied the next four holes to get to 12 under for the round and allow herself to think about a 59. She got the last birdie she needed with a two-putt from 7.5 meters (25 feet) on the par-5 eighth. On her final hole, she hit 9-iron into about 3 meters (10 feet) and needed only two putts for par and a piece of history. The final putt was only 15.25 centimeters (6 inches). “It was one of the longest putts I had all day _ maybe not distance wise, but it really felt like it,” she said. “I was trying to count quickly if I counted right, because I didn’t want to jump up and down when I thought it was 59, when it really was 60.” The round included 13 birdies, no bogeys and 25 putts on the 5,878-meter (6,459 yard) Moon Valley course. She reached every green in regulation and her longest par putt was 1.05 meters (3.5 feet). “You can use all the words you want — impressive, simple,” playing partner Meg Mallon said. “She had two tap-ins and one putt from about 6 feet (1.8 meters). The rest were 10 to 25 feet (3 to 7.5 meters). She put on a putting display, especially on the front side. She hit the right shots. It was the kind of round everyone dreams of playing.” Tiger Woods has never had a 59 on tour, but he hit golf’s magic number during a casual round with Mark O’Meara a week before Woods’ record setting victory in the 1997 Masters. “It’s an incredible feeling when you get on a roll like that,” he said. “She’s playing beautiful golf. She’s a great player and she’s fun to watch.” On her ninth hole, where she made her first par of the day, Sorenstam dropped an 8-iron shot from 144 meters (158 yards) to 9 meters (30 feet), then left her first putt 1.05 meters (3.5 feet) short. She missed only one fairway, straying about a meter (yard) into the rough on her 15th hole. She hit an 8-iron to 6 meters (20 feet) and two putted for par. As Sorenstam made her way down the stretch, the golf course emptied behind her and the applause from a Sunday sized gallery grew louder as fans left their greenside spots. On the 17th hole, a 433-meter (476-yard) par 5, Sorenstam drove down the middle and reached the green on the fly with a 7-wood. Faced with a 7.5-meter (25-foot) eagle putt that would have to roll through a swale, she paced off the distance, fidgeted and stood over the ball. She took one step back then ran the putt within 20 centimeters (8 inches) for birdie as the crowd roared. Sorenstam’s approach shot on the last hole landed and dug in about 3 meters (10 feet) above the hole. She two-putted, turned and leaped into the arms of caddie Terry McNamara — the first of a series of celebrations. Sorenstam, who earned US$1.4 million and won five titles last year to Webb’s US$1.88 million and seven championships, has made no secret of her intention to overtake Webb as No. 1 on the LPGA Tour. Sorenstam began a rigorous offseason training program, and it has paid off — she was second in her first two events and won last week in Tucson, setting a tournament record there of 23 under for 72 holes and moving to No. 1 on the money list. “She’s playing better than ever, because she’s practicing more and she’s in the best shape of her life,” said her father, Tom Sorenstam. “She’s motivated, not just by Karrie. By the rest of the tour. She wants to be the best.” First-round leader Kris Tschetter was second, eight strokes back. Pak, Pat Hurst and Laura Diaz were nine shots behind. Webb shot a 69 for a 142 total. Seventy-five players made the cut at 143.

But Laura Davies, who won four straight Phoenix titles from 1993-97, shot a 144, and defending champion Charlotta Sorenstam, Annika’s sister, finished at 145.