Amazing what a couple weeks off can do. That's what Annika Sorenstam was saying Thursday after her first-round 67 put her two strokes off the lead at the Titleholders Championship.
Sorenstam, the 1997 LPGA Player of the Year with six victories, is winless this year. But she has finished among the top 10 in each of her previous six tournaments.
After a three-week break, she returned to the LPGA for the $1-million tournament at LPGA International.
"I'm very pleased," she said. "Today, it felt easy. If I could play like this all the time, I'd play for the rest of my life. It was a lot of fun."
Of course, hitting 15 greens in regulation and using nothing but a putter on the ones she barely missed helps.
"I'm not impatient right now," Sorenstam said of her lack of victories. "I'm playing good golf. I'd like to win, but the competition is so tough and the scores are so low."
RISING PRESTIGE: Although behind its men's counterpart in tradition, the women's Solheim Cup is gaining in stature and reputation.
The biennial competition, patterned after the Ryder Cup and pitting a team of American golfers against one from Europe, still is six months away. But many of the LPGA players already are looking forward to it.
"It's always a fun year," said Sweden's Liselotte Neumann, who has played on every European team since the competition began in 1990. "The Europeans are playing so well this year. It's fun to look up on the scoreboard and see one of their names and say, "Oh, good, she's playing well.' "
This year's Solheim Cup is Sept. 18-20 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. The United States leads the competition 3-1.
NOTES: Deb Richard and Jan Stephenson withdrew. Defending champion Tammie Green shot par 72. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez had a tough day, shooting 79. Rookie Kelli Kuehne, who has missed the cut in seven of eight events, shot 2-under-par 70, equaling her best score of the year.
_ BOB HARIG