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Sunday, March 27, 2005



GOLF


Sorenstam running away

She leads Rosie Jones by five strokes
after the third round; Michelle Wie
is 12 shots back

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » Annika Sorenstam was on the back nine of her Saturday runaway when a marshal's loud command for the quiet crowd to get even quieter forced her to back off her ball just as she was set to hit.

Sorenstam's caddie admonished the marshal, but Sorenstam wasn't bothered.

"That's OK," she told the marshal. "I'm happy."

Bad marshaling aside, Sorenstam had a lot to be happy about in the third round of the Nabisco Championship. She didn't make a bogey, finished with a 6-under 66 and built a five-stroke lead over Rosie Jones going into the final round.

In doing so, the most dominant player in women's golf all but wrapped up the first major championship of the year while setting herself up for another entry into the LPGA record books.

"Just a great day for me out there," Sorenstam said.

Honolulu's Michelle Wie didn't have as great a day.

The 15-year-old golfer had hoped to do something like she did as a 13-year-old and shoot a 66 in her third round to get in contention. She shot a 73 instead and was 12 shots back at 1 over.

Wie heads into today's final round tied for 21st place with Se Ri Pak and last year's Nabisco Champion, Grace Park.

Wie was 3 under after three straight birdies on the back nine, but she gave those strokes back over the final four holes, finishing with a double-bogey seven at the 18th to end the round 1 over.

She birdied the par-5 11th and the par-3 12th and 13th holes before bogeys at Nos. 15 and 17.

Sixteen-year-old Morgan Pressel was both the low teenager and the low amateur, with an even-par round that left her at 1 under.

Sorenstam's round yesterday was among the best she's put together of late. She seemingly put a lock on both her record tying fifth straight win and the first of a possible four major titles this year.

Sorenstam finished five shots ahead of Jones, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Only two other players are closer than 10 shots behind, and Sorenstam is an intimidating presence on top of the leaderboard.

About all she has left is an 18-hole stroll today and the ceremonial winner's jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green.

"She's the last person you want to have a five-shot lead," Jones said.

Sorenstam birdied four holes on the front nine and two on the back to shoot the lowest score of the week on the Mission Hills Country Club course. She did it without getting into any serious difficulty on a day when light breezes and warm temperatures offered ideal scoring conditions.

There's 18 holes left to play today, but that figures to be a mere formality. Sorenstam doesn't give up leads easily, and no one in the field has shown they have the game to challenge her.

Jones, in her final year on tour, birdied the final hole to shoot 71 and inch a shot closer, but the only other players within even a sniff of the lead were Mi-Hyun Kim and Cristie Kerr at seven shots back.

About the only excitement left on the final day may be how artistically Sorenstam takes the traditional winner's jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green. She's likely to do well at that too, since she's had practice by winning here twice in the last four years.

Sorenstam has gotten better every day, with an opening 70 followed by a second-round 69 before yesterday's 66. She's hitting the ball long, not making mistakes and may be playing the best golf of her extraordinary career.

"This is probably as good golf as I've played on a consistent level for a long time," she said.

Assuming Sorenstam wins today she will tie the record set by Nancy Lopez in 1978 of winning five consecutive events she played in. Lopez was dominant in her time, too, but Sorenstam is accomplishing things that Lopez never dreamed about.

A win today would not only give Sorenstam a start toward doing something no other female golfer has ever done -- win all four majors in one year -- but would be the 59th of her career.

"Tomorrow I want to have a day like I did today," she said.

Sorenstam didn't take long to separate herself from the pack on a day when the temperature got into the 80s and the course played fast. She started the day tied at 5 under with Jones, but promptly birdied the second and third holes and was on her way.

Playing in the final threesome with Jones and Mi-Hyun Kim, Sorenstam regularly drove the ball 60 yards past her competitors. While they were hitting fairway woods to the longer par-4s, she was hitting short irons.

The 387-yard 15th hole was a classic example. Jones had to hit a fairway wood as did Kim, and they both hit them about as well as they could, finishing 15 to 18 feet from the hole. Sorenstam, meanwhile, had a pitching wedge from the right side of the fairway and knocked it to 3 feet for her final birdie of the day.

Sorenstam had to make a few 4-5 footers on the back nine for pars, the final one on the 17th hole after her putt from the fringe went past. But that was about as bad as it got on a day when she split fairways and hit all but two greens.

"Annika executed everything just perfectly," Jones said. "She just played really well.



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