Pak uses eagles and a big par to beat Sorenstam

Sunday, March 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) _ Se Ri Pak needed a big start to beat Annika Sorenstam, and she got it with a pair of front nine eagles. On a course where birdies came in bunches, though, it took a scrambling par to clinch her win.

Pak's long par putt after hitting it in the water on the 17th hole kept her in the lead, and she finished with a tap-in birdie on the final hole Sunday for an 8-under 64 to win the Safeway Ping by a shot over Grace Park.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, struggled with her wedges and putter all day and was never in contention on the back nine. She finished with a 1-under 71, four shots back.

``That's golf,'' Sorenstam said. ``If you play golf long enough you know these things happen.''

The final round began with Pak making birdies on the first two holes, setting up a showdown between the two best players on the LPGA tour. But after Pak passed Sorenstam with two eagles on the front nine, Sorenstam never threatened.

Park actually had an outside chance to tie if she could sink her second shot on the par-4 18th hole and she nearly did, with the ball checking up just three feet beneath the hole. She shot a final round 65.

``It looked really good in the air,'' Park said. ``I was hoping it would go in.''

Pak, who had four straight rounds in the 60s, served notice to Sorenstam that she faces an imposing task in trying to win 11 times again this year. Pak won five times herself last year, four of those coming with Sorenstam in the field.

``I'm really proud of myself,'' said Pak, who finished at 23 under. ``I really wanted to win this tournament.''

Surprisingly, Sorenstam played erratically, plodding along with pars on the same course where she made nine birdies a day before.

The most dominant player in women's golf made only one birdie _ two-putting the par-5 10th hole _ and parred the rest. It was the second straight year she blew a final-round lead at the Moon Valley Country Club, where she lost last year in a playoff to Rachel Teske.

Pak caught Sorenstam with a tap-in eagle after hitting a fairway wood close on the fourth hole, added a second eagle with a 20-footer on the eight hole, and had a three-shot lead at the turn after shooting 30 on the front nine.

But she cooled off on the back nine and was only a shot ahead of Park when she took out a fairway wood for her tee shot on the par-4 17th hole.

Pak was playing it safe, but she pulled the shot into the water down the left side. She dropped in the light rough, hit an 8-iron to about 40 feet and then calmly rolled the ball in the cup for par.

``I was thinking if I could two-putt I could still get in a playoff,'' Pak said. ``Then it went in.''

Pak then played the 18th perfectly, hitting a drive down the right side and an iron to about 18 inches for a final birdie.

It was Sorenstam's first competitive golf in five months, a time she used to go to cooking school, make plans to play against the men at Colonial and play a practice round with Tiger Woods.

The layoff didn't seem to affect her as she opened with a 67, then improved a shot a day in the second and third rounds.

But in the final round Sorenstam grew increasingly frustrated as she missed putt after putt in the opening holes. After hitting her drive into a fairway bunker on the eighth hole, she flipped her driver in the air in disgust.

Worse yet, the wedge play that had carried Sorenstam to nine birdies the day before deserted her, and she missed the green on both the seventh and eighth holes with a wedge in her hand.

Webb, who was tied with Sorenstam, Pak and Meunier-Lebouc after three rounds, was never a factor in the final round. She started out three shots back and shot a 2-over 38 on the front, including a bogey on the on the par-5 fourth when she missed the green with a wedge and took three to get down.