Annika Ends Ten Year Wait For U.S. Open Title

Annika won her third U.S. Open title.
Annika won her third U.S. Open title.

Annika Sorenstam kept trying to convince herself the U.S. Women's Open was just another tournament, despite reminders at every turn of how much it meant and how long it had been since she won.

Tiger Woods kept calling her through the weekend to cheer her on. Every shot demanded so much thought. Then came the 18-hole playoff on Monday against Pat Hurst, which turned out to be the easiest task Sorenstam faced at Newport Country Club.

No doubt, this was the sweetest.

"It's been 10 years. It's been 10 long years," Sorenstam said. "But I'm very grateful and thankful."

After four months without a victory, all it took was one week at historic Newport for Sorenstam to deliver a defiant answer about the state of her game and that so-called slump.

"To come here this week, with not such a great season and then to win is pretty ironic," Sorenstam said. "I wanted to approach it like it was any other week. I was just thinking, 'Pretend it's not the Open. Try not to think about the consequences of this tournament enjoy yourself.' I think I did pretty good."

She was at her best in the playoff from the very first hole.

Sorenstam hit a sand wedge that landed in the first cut of rough behind the green and spun back to 6 feet for birdie, which turned into a two-shot lead when Hurst's wedge was heavy and spun off the green. Hurst left her first putt 10 feet short, didn't even get her par putt to the hole and it was all downhill from there.

"It hurts," Hurst said. "You don't know how many more chances you're going to have."

Sorenstam won her 10th major championship, tied with Babe Zaharias for fourth all-time and now she's only five majors behind Patty Berg for most in U.S. LPGA Tour history. Sorenstam has won a major in each of the last six years, the second-longest streak in U.S. LPGA history behind Mickey Wright.

Since winning the U.S. Women's Open in 1995 and 1996, Sorenstam had won 63 times and seven majors, establishing herself as the best in the game.

But after she tapped in for par on the last hole on Monday, she kissed the shaft of her putter and placed it behind her neck, raising her head to the skies in relief.

"This was important," said her swing coach, Henri Reis, who flew over from Sweden to work on a stronger grip for Sorenstam, then watched her miss only three fairways and four greens in the playoff.

Sorenstam had gone eight tournaments without winning, her longest drought in five years. She wasn't a serious threat in either of the year's first two majors, won by her old rivals Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak.

"They expect too much sometimes," Reis said. "In Sweden, they expect even more. They expect her to win every tournament."

The four-shot margin of victory was the largest in a U.S. Women's Open playoff since Kathy Cornelius won by seven shots 50 years ago.

Sorenstam won for the 68th time in her career, leaving her 20 short of Kathy Whitworth's all-time record. She earned $560,000 (?438,000) from the biggest prize in women's golf, pushing her over $20 million (?15.6 million) for her career.

And how about this for timing: Sorenstam can claim her first national championship.

The Swede became a naturalized U.S. citizen two weeks ago, and she never won a national title growing up in Sweden.

For Hurst, it was a sloppy finish to an otherwise solid week at Newport. She was trying to join Joanne Carner as the only players to capture the U.S. Junior Girls, U.S. Women's Amateur and the U.S. Women's Open. But she ran into the wrong player at the wrong time.

Hurst dropped to 0-4 in career playoffs, with three of those losses coming to Sorenstam. She knew it was over on the 17th hole, and as she walked up the final fairway, she turned to Sorenstam and asked her for an autographed golf ball.

"She's a class act in women's golf, and she's very good for us," Hurst said. "Someone like that, you want them on your side."