Francella Beats Sorenstam In Playoff

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 5:52 am
By: News On 6

HUIXQUILUCAN, Mexico (AP) _ Meaghan Francella was nearly speechless when she introduced herself to Annika Sorentam earlier in the week. The 24-year-old rookie also struggled to come up with words to describe her playoff victory over the Swedish star.

``I went up to her in the locker room _ I finally got the guts to do it _ shook her hand and said, 'Hey, I'm Meaghan,' and she said, 'Great playing.''' Francella recalled. ``I didn't know what else to say, so I walked away.''

On Monday, Francella beat Sorenstam on the fourth hole of a playoff in the rain-delayed MasterCard Classic, holing a 4-foot birdie putt for an unlikely victory in only her sixth career start on the LPGA Tour.

``Words can't describe how I feel right now,'' Francella said. ``Annika is the best player in the world. I was a little intimidated, but I just tried to stay patient. I didn't want her to intimidate me. I just tried to stay focused. ... I was like, 'Am I really doing this?' I felt like I was dreaming.''

The former University of North Carolina star from Port Chester, N.Y., closed with a 3-under 69 to match Sorenstam (66) at 11-under 205 on the Bosque Real course _ the longest on the tour at 6,932 yards and highest at about 8,000 feet above sea level.

Francella, the 2003 Atlantic Coast Conference champion who earned her tour card last year with a fifth-place finish on the Futures Tour money list, made the winning 4-foot putt on the par-5 18th _ the only hole used in the playoff _ after Sorenstam missed a 7-foot birdie try.

``I didn't expect Annika to miss that putt,'' Francella said. ``I just tried to stay in my moment and make the putt. It was just left-center. ... I had nothing to lose out there today. ... Nobody knew who I was before this week, except the people back home.''

Francella, who earned $180,000 for the breakthrough victory, birdied the par-4 16th, hitting an 8-iron to a foot, to tie Sorenstam at 11 under and finished regulation with two straight pars.

Francella's only other professional victory came exactly a year ago in the Future Tour's Lakeland Classic.

``It's hard to be in this position,'' Francella said. ``Everybody's gunning for you. I'm proud of myself for staying patient and staying confident. I had been in this position on the Duramed Futures Tour, but never out here. I know that prepared me for today. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't played out there.''

Sorenstam, the two-time defending champion making her first start of the year, had seven birdies and a bogey on the 16th hole.

``I'm very happy with the way I played today. I shot 6 under,'' Sorenstam said. ``I thought I made a good run at it. I'm very pleased with the way I hit the ball today. I had a lot of chances. It got very exciting. It came down to the end and a putt or two would have been a different outcome.''

Angela Stanford (67), Kyeong Bae (67) and Stacy Prammanasudh (71) tied for third at 8 under, and Mexican star Lorena Ochoa (70), Shi Hyun Ahn (67) and Hye Jung Choi (69) followed at 6 under.

``My error was in the first day of the tournament,'' said Ochoa, who opened with a 71. ``After that, it took a lot of work to come back. The leaders were very far ahead. I can't say I had bad luck. It never depends on luck. The more practice you have and the better you hit the ball, the more luck you have.''

Francella dedicated the victory to her parents.

``They made a lot of sacrifice,'' said Francella, whose father was with her. ``I can just imagine how my mom is at home. She's probably crying and she's been at church a hundred times today. She's lit so many candles. I just can't thank them enough.

``It's something I've worked for my entire life. I had a rough offseason. I think I proved to everybody I could do this. To beat Annika is a dream come true. I think everyone would've been mad if it was Lorena, though.''