No way Annika Sorenstam was going to end her finest season by
letting her archnemesis steal her thunder. Sure, Karrie Webb had
an insurmountable lead heading into the last round of the LPGA's
final event of the year, but after all Sorenstam had accomplished
in 2001--including shooting an unprecedented 59 and winning eight
tournaments--she went out on Sunday determined to make a little
more history. If she couldn't beat Webb at last week's Tyco/ADT
Championship, she could at least break her rival's record for
scoring average, established in 1999.
To set the mark Sorenstam needed a 66 on a brutal course that had
yielded only two rounds lower than 69 through the first three
days. Long odds, you say? All Sorenstam did was shoot a 65,
loosing a fist pump after the final putt dropped. "I'm very
stubborn," she said on Sunday evening. "It was my last goal of
the year. I wanted to end the year on my terms." The only thing
sweeter, she admitted, would have been taking home the trophy.
Don't think Webb didn't enjoy seizing that hardware. "I'll eat my
hat if [Sorenstam] wins eight tournaments every year from now
on," she said. "As much as she'd like to win eight tournaments
every year, I know she's probably not counting on it." Take that,
Sorenstam had come to the tournament with all of 2001's major
distinctions--player of the year as well as the money and scoring
titles--wrapped up. An obsessive achiever, she secured the scoring
record with a seven-under-par 281, dropping her season average to
69.42, .01 better than Webb's number for 1999. Still, Webb's
two-stroke victory gives Sorenstam something to stew over during
the long off-season. "This victory is her answer to my season,"
Sorenstam said on Sunday. "I think it means that I've got to be
ready next year."
This back-and-forth between Sorenstam and Webb injected drama
into an otherwise lifeless event, especially because they were
paired in the opening two rounds. However, their rivalry has
become so familiar that the protagonists were eclipsed by the
setting--Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach,
Fla.--and it's blustery patriarch.
Donald Trump's first golf course owes more to Willy Wonka's
chocolate factory than to the typical Florida layout. The $46
million spread boasts 1,000 oaks trees (brought in at $5,000 a
pop), a 30-foot man-made waterfall and eight swans. The one
detail that seemed to escape Trump was the symphony of obscene
screams floating downwind from the Palm Beach County Criminal
Justice Complex, which abuts the 3rd hole. "I could definitely
hear the inmates out in the rec area during practice rounds,"
said pro Moira Dunn.
Trump preferred to focus on a different captive audience--the
tournament-record 45,000 fans in attendance. "Look at all these
people who came to see the course," Trump said last Saturday from
the 18th-hole bleachers, waving a hand in the direction of the
hordes of senior citizens in white tube socks. "Having a
tournament on this course doesn't mean much to me, but this is a
way for people who aren't going to pay $350,000 for a membership
to pay $10 to see the course."
The fans were as eager to get a glimpse of Trump as they were of
the Webb-Sorenstam showdown, and the Donald didn't disappoint. He
spent the first round spectating from the middle of the fairway,
trailing Sorenstam and Webb with a seven-person entourage. "You'd
think he'd have better things to do," said Sorenstam.
Apparently not. During the second round Trump chatted up players
from behind the tee of the par-3 17th hole. On Saturday he parked
himself at 18, delighting in the chance to look on as Sorenstam
triple-bogeyed the hole. "Oops, looks like she just threw up on
herself," Trump said, chortling. "You know, we could make this
course more difficult if we wanted."
Trump's famous ego had a direct impact on the tournament: He
wanted the scores to be high to burnish his course's reputation.
Owing to superfast greens and devilishly positioned pins, Webb
(nine under) and Sorenstam were the only players to finish below
par on the watery 6,413-yard, par-72 track. Although the field
averaged 75.67 during a windy second round, the Trump
International grounds crew further tricked up the course on
Saturday morning, shaving the fringe of the 7th green so balls
would slide off to a watery doom. "I don't want to see the
players suffer," Trump said, "but I don't think anyone wants to
see golfers shooting 29 under."
The players didn't exactly appreciate his concern. The LPGA's
season-ending event is limited to the top 30 on the money list,
and it's supposed to be a reward for a long season of grinding.
Trump did supply the golfers with BMW 350I courtesy cars and
bungalows at his private social club Mar-a-Lago--each equipped
with a nine-foot pool table and a hot tub--but there was still
plenty of griping. "A lot of us are frustrated," said Marisa
Baena, who wound up 13 over par. "This is the Tour Championship.
We're supposed to show off our skills. Instead I look like a 36
Trump's rejoinder? "The sign of a good--no, a great--course is
when you see the two best players competing for the title."
That was indeed the case over four taut rounds. Webb began the
third round four strokes ahead of Sorenstam, but the scrappy
Swede stormed back, seizing the lead with a birdie on the 10th
hole. Webb, however, steadied herself, and by the time Sorenstam
had dunked two balls at 18 and made her triple, Webb was five up
on Sorenstam. "I'm trying my hardest," a peeved Sorenstam said
following the round. "It's as if we've had Sunday pins for the
past two days."
When Sunday finally came, Sorenstam mounted one last charge. With
five birdies and an eagle over her final 13 holes, she closed to
within two strokes. Webb had to earn her third victory of the
season with an airtight 68.
This dustup was only the latest episode in Sorenstam and Webb's
long game of can-you-top-this? After Webb's seven victories in
2000, including two majors, Sorenstam rededicated herself in the
off-season, and the result has been 31 tournament, scoring and
money records this year. (With $115,000 last week she became the
first woman to earn $2 million in a season.) Webb won two majors
in the span of four weeks to become the youngest woman (26) to
complete the career Grand Slam, yet she was still overshadowed by
her rival. Do the comparisons with Sorenstam bother her? "I don't
get caught up in that," Webb said last Friday, flinching at the
question. "Annika's had an unbelievable year, but I'll take my
results every year for the rest of my life."
Webb denied that her first victory in five months was a message
to Sorenstam, but she was clearly sustained by the intensity of
the competition. Walking off the 18th green on Sunday, she was
stopped by Trump, who congratulated her with a kiss on the cheek.
Leaning in, he asked, "Annika make you nervous out there today?"
"Oh, yeah," Webb said with a smile. "She had me going all day."
Webb's scoring record. "I wanted to end the year on my terms."