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Sorenstam casts a long shadow

Coming to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, much of the attention centers around Annika Sorenstam. History already is in her back pocket alongside admiration of fans and fellow LPGA Tour competitors, and another U.S. Women's Open title only would add to it all.

This is a recording.

Six years ago, the same scenario surrounded Sorenstam on the eve of arguably the biggest tournament on the LPGA calendar. In 1997, the fourth-year pro already had 11 victories and arrived in North Plains, Ore., with a shot at an Open three-peat.

Did you remember Annika-mania then? Perhaps not, but you certainly know it now.

This week the 32-year-old arrives with three wins on the season, including a major title at last month's LPGA Championship. Throw in a respectable showing seven weeks ago at the PGA Tour's Colonial, and here we go again.

But Sorenstam hopes the trip that starts today at Pumpkin Ridge ends late Sunday with a trophy bid instead of a Friday-afternoon trunk slam.

In 1997 _ as incredulous as it sounds now _ the Swede missed the cut. This year she is not the defending champion but remains the clear favorite much like six years ago, though with a different mind-set.

"I had a chance for a three-peat, which nobody else had done. I just couldn't handle the pressure," Sorenstam said. "Obviously I feel six years older, I feel a little more mature and I think my game has changed quite a bit.

"And I've experienced a lot since then."

That is an understatement given her brief stop on the PGA Tour, which she vows will not happen again. With the gender issue brushed aside, she prefers to talk about her preparation for Colonial and how that continues to pay off.

"I worked so much on my short game to prepare for the Colonial but also for the majors, which is my priority for (the rest of) this year," Sorenstam said.

Sorenstam will not win the Grand Slam since Patricia Meunier-Lebouc bettered her by a shot to claim the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March, though maybe that should be called B.C. (before Colonial).

The question now is whether any of the tour's other big guns can steal the spotlight. There is no question some players are ready to change the topic.

"Kind of a little boring, because always Annika, Annika, Annika," four-time major champion Se Ri Pak said before the LPGA Championship, which became just that.

"But what she is doing is great, I mean, great for the LPGA, but at the same time looks like Se Ri got lost a little bit, too."

Speaking of getting lost, another player in the field can relate to coming up well short in a three-peat Open bid. Karrie Webb arrived at Prairie Dunes in Hutchison, Kan., last year with a chance at the feat but opened with 79 and missed the cut.

Since then she has won once, at last year's Women's British Open, and garners a fraction of the attention she had as the tour's best player in 1999-2000.

"Annika deserves the attention. I'm not particularly worried about it," said Webb, who is paired in the first two rounds with defending champion Juli Inkster. "I feel like I'm not playing too badly, I just have not put four rounds together in a tournament yet."

One sidebar to the Open will be if any of the field's teenagers can put four rounds together. Michelle Wie, the 13-year-old sensation who has dates on the men's Canadian Tour and Nationwide Tour, headlines a group of young qualifiers.

"I'm really nervous. It's the biggest tournament by far that I've ever played in," said Sydney Burlison of California, youngest in the field at 13 (nine days younger than Wie). "I just hope to have fun, and maybe learn a couple of things from some of the better players."

At Tuesday's news conferences, Burlison was asked who her golf role models are.

Take one guess who she named.

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