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Annika Sorenstam returns to competition with 75

She is 10 shots off the lead in the LPGA Gainbridge on her home course at Lake Nona in Orlando.
Annika Sorenstam chips a shot to the ninth green during the first round of the LPGA Gainbridge at Lake Nona in Orlando.
Annika Sorenstam chips a shot to the ninth green during the first round of the LPGA Gainbridge at Lake Nona in Orlando. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Feb. 26
Updated Feb. 26

ORLANDO — Annika Sorenstam doesn’t remember golf being this difficult.

She still managed plenty of smiles when the most dominant player of her era played her first LPGA Tour event in more than 12 years. With one birdie and one bad hole, Sorenstam shot 3-over 75 in the LPGA Gainbridge on Thursday on her home course at Lake Nona in Orlando.

“It seems a little bit more stressful, this kind of golf,” she said.

Sorenstam was 10 shots behind another Lake Nona member, Lydia Ko, who opened with 7-under 65 for a two-shot lead over Nelly Korda and Nanna Koerstz Madsen. Seminole native and Gulfport resident Brittany Lincicome was in a group at 3 under.

Related: Annika Sorenstam is back on LPGA Tour, just not for very long

But this week isn’t about Sorenstam adding to her 72 career victories or starting a comeback at age 50. The tour came to her home course and she wanted to play.

With that early heard turn and tee shots that more often than not found the fairway, it didn’t seem like Sorenstam had been away from the tour since Nov. 23, 2008, when she retired after a three-win season to start a family. She and husband Mike McGee are parents to daughter Ava, 11, and son Will, 9. It was the rest of the game that felt so foreign.

“I could have been more aggressive on the putts. I could have been more aggressive on iron shots,” she said. “I’m at a point in my life that it’s not automatic. It’s not a pin-seeker the way it was. Now it’s more a green-seeker. I did okay. A little more stressful golf, but overall, it’s fun.”

Lake Nona members and a few family guests were allowed, and Sorenstam found about 150 people gathered around the first tee.

“I was quite nervous. I’ve been nervous for a few days,” said Sorenstam.

The highlight of her round was a gap wedge from about 95 yards on the 14th hole that landed some 10 feet behind the hole and spun back to a foot away for a tap-in birdie.

Sorenstam had said she could play 14 holes fine but there were a few surprises on the other four. She only had one surprise Thursday, but it was a big one.

After opening with four pars, she pulled her tee shot on the fifth hole so far left that it settled directly under the gate of a wrought-iron fence. The rules officials determined it was in play “by a dimple.” Sorenstam asked if she could open the gate to play the shot, but that wasn’t allowed.

And then she almost made other mistake. She was reminded the drop was knee-length, not shoulder-length. The Rules of Golf have been updated three times since she last played, the major overhaul coming two years ago.

“I have not studied the rules in 13 years. Rules are not part of my life right now,” she said with a laugh.

After a penalty drop, she hit it back toward the fairway to about 70 yards, hit an ordinary wedge and three-putted from about 18 feet for a triple bogey.

“I can’t remember the last time I made triple bogey,” she said.

Sorenstam also three-putted on No. 10, and she failed to birdie any of the par 5s. Sorenstam was tentative and rarely gave herself good looks at birdie. That was to be expected, and that will have to improve if she wants to play the weekend.

“I don’t hit it as long,” she said, and that was evident by the few times Madelene Sagstrom hit it some 60 yards past her off the tee. “I’ve always had another gear. I don’t even know if I have a single gear now.”

Sorenstam still understands this week is about more than grinding her way to contention.

Before heading to the first tee, she posed for pictures with family and friends, including a selfie with one person. She stopped along the 15th fairway — not far from her home — to hug her daughter and son when they were done with school and came out to watch.

She played with two other Swedes, Anna Nordqvist and Sagstrom, whom she has known since they were juniors. After signing their cards, they wanted a picture with Sorenstam.

It had a ceremonial feel to it, and that was fine with Sorenstam.

“I’m in a different place with my game,” she said. “When I talk to my friends, they say, ‘This is how golf is for all of us.’ Well, it never was for me. It was a little bit of a rollercoaster. It makes you stay on your toes a little more than it used to.”