Sorenstam Wins ShopRite Classic

Monday, July 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Many wondered if Annika Sorenstam could top last season. After all, she had eight victories to go with 19 top-10 finishes.

Stop wondering.

Sorenstam is on pace to break Mickey Wright's single-season record of 13 wins. She won for the sixth time in 12 events, rallying from a three-shot deficit Sunday to capture the ShopRite LPGA Classic by three strokes.

The 31-year-old Swede closed with a 5-under-par 66 and solidified her position as the favorite for this week's U.S. Women's Open.

This was Sorenstam's second win in her last two starts and the fourth in six events for someone well on the way to a fifth LPGA player of the year award.

``This is why I have worked so hard. This is what I want,'' Sorenstam said after shooting a bogey-free round to win this event for the second time in five years.

``It's all going my way, so I am just going to enjoy it and be thankful,'' she said. ``It's a great run and I love it.''

This was Sorenstam's third comeback victory this year, and the 13th in 37 LPGA wins for the Hall of Famer. It was worth $180,000 and pushed her earnings this year to $1,534,054, more than twice the amount of the tour's No. 2 money earner, Se Ri Pak.

``She is really focused,'' said runner-up Kate Golden, who lost her chance to beat Sorenstam with bogeys on four of the last five holes on the Bay Course at the Marriott Seaview Resort.

``I don't know if you have watched her, but she has tunnel vision all the time,'' Golden said. ``She knows what she wants to do and does it.''

Sorenstam finished the tournament, played in the shadow of Atlantic City's casinos, with a 12-under 201, her score improving with each round. What's more, a lot of birdie putts lipped out all three days.

``I don't feel like I have to analyze this,'' Sorenstam said. ``This is the hard work that is being paid off right now. You start working out, you work harder on your game, it takes time. It's been almost two years since I started. You plant the seed, now you see the fruit.''

Sorenstam said her drives are 10-to-12 yards longer this year, and her accuracy and putting have improved.

``My scoring average is lower, and I am better than last year,'' Sorenstam said.

Golden, second-round leader Juli Inkster and Carin Koch shared second, a shot ahead of Hiromi Kobayashi and rookie Natalie Gulbis.

Sorenstam started the final round three shots behind Inkster, two behind Golden and one in back of final-round playing partner Pat Hurst.

Sorenstam moved into contention with birdies at the third, fourth and fifth holes, all less than 10 feet. By the time she walked off No. 6, she was in a three-way tie for the lead.

Inkster, who had won six consecutive events in which she held the lead heading into the final round, struggled with her driver and putter and fell off the lead after a bogey at No. 9.

``I didn't play good enough to win,'' said Inkster, who had a 72. ``I am disappointed in that. I just hate to give it to her on a platter.''

Hurst made a double bogey on the same hole. She closed with a 76 and tied for 24th at 3 under.

That left Golden, who shot a final-round 63 last year to rally past Sorenstam in last year's State Farm Classic.

For a while it looked as if Golden would beat Sorenstam again. She made long birdie putts at Nos. 12 and 13 to lead by two shots. But a bad drive, bad iron and topped wood in the fairway led to bogeys at Nos. 14-16. A tap-in birdie at No. 16 gave Sorenstam breathing room.

``I just messed up,'' said Golden, who had missed four cuts and not finished better than a tie for 24th in 12 events this year. ``I got a little greedy again.''

Golden needed to eagle the par-5 No. 18 to tie, but she drove into deep rough, took another bogey and finished with a 71.