Annika is to be admired

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

What are the odds that the two greatest golfers in history -- one a man, one a woman -- would live in the same city and play out of the same golf club and be building their legacies in precisely the same era?

Lest fans of Jack Nicklaus and Kathy Whitworth get their shorts in a knot, we acknowledge that both Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam have miles to go before they each own that title of "greatest ever" but the coincidence of their mastery is remarkable.

As dominant and as intimidating as Tiger was during his red-hot period between 1999 and 2002, he didn't own the PGA Tour the way the Sorenstam owns the LPGA right now.

But imagine this: matching Grand Slams in 2005. One for Annika, one for Tiger.

Unlikely? Well, yeah.

Impossible? Not for a minute.

With five wins in seven previous starts this year, including the first major of the year (the Kraft Nabisco Championship), Sorenstam heads into the weekend of the second leg of the women's Grand Slam, the LPGA Championship, sitting in a spot where she is most comfortable -- in the lead.

BIRDIE BINGE

After Thursday's opening round, Sorenstam was lurking at four-under-par, two shots behind England's Laura Davies. Sixteen holes into the second round, Sorenstam's fifth birdie of the day put her into the lead. She would add another birdie, and starts the weekend two shots clear of the field, at nine-under par. It was her 16th consecutive competitive round that produced a score in the 60s.

Given the way she has bullied her competition this year, is there really a lot of doubt that by tomorrow night, Sorenstam won't be halfway to her goal?

"It's in the back of my mind," Sorenstam said of the Slam. "But I can't get ahead of myself. (Today) I'll just try to play a solid round and be in position Sunday."

Sorenstam is dominating her sport as few athletes have. She is doing to women's golf what Wayne Gretzky did to hockey in the 1980's, putting up numbers that may never be beaten.

With 61 professional victories, the 34-year-old Swede still has to win 27 more tournaments to catch Whitworth as the LPGA's No. 1 tournament winner.

"I've never thought 88 was possible and I'm still so far away from it," Sorenstam said recently. "But I've come so far ahead of what I ever thought I would.

"Maybe if I would reach 75 (victories) then I might focus on the record. It really sounds so impossible to do that. I guess you should never say never."

Two years ago, Sorenstam tested herself against the PGA Tour men at Colonial. She didn't make the cut but impressed everyone, including some of the male skeptics, with her precise game.

Since that experiment she has won 18 of the 37 LPGA events she has played.

Sorenstam plays out of Isleworth, in Orlando, a course where she is not even the most famous member. She practises quite often with Woods and has credited her association with him with some of the breakthroughs that have set her apart from her peers.

"It's no secret my short game was the weakest part of my game, but I've learned from watching and talking with Tiger that there are a lot of different ways to get the ball in the hole," she said.

Woods, like Sorenstam on the women's side, is the only golfer who can possibly win the men's Grand Slam this year, coming off his third Masters victory. He'll get his chance next week at Pinehurst in the U.S. Open.

Before he heads to Carolina, Woods may get a little nudge from his clubmate. By then, Sorenstam may very well have her second major of the year and ninth of her career. After that, it's the U.S. Women's Open in two weeks and the British Women's Open at Royal Birkdale at the end of July.

Whether or not she pulls it off will not diminish who she is and what she's doing.

Right now, she's lifting her sport way up over her head for all to admire.


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