Great crowd turns out to see Nancy Lopez's last stand in Portland's LPGA event
Fans turned out in surprisingly large numbers, reveled in the return of the LPGA to Portland, waved goodbye to legend Nancy Lopez and admired the performance of the world's best player.
Tournament organizers called the LPGA Safeway Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club a resounding success.
'Friday and Saturday made it,' said Tom Maletis, president of Tournament Golf Foundation Inc. 'It was by far the best attended Friday and Saturday we've had. I haven't seen a more crowded 18th green than when Nancy came up.'
Lopez, retiring as a touring pro, missed the cut Saturday, and the Portland fans bid her adieu with warm ovations and plenty of thanks.
On Sunday, the current star of stars came out to play. A day after shooting 10-under 62, Annika Sorenstam finished off her first Portland victory by outlasting hard-charging Kate Golden by one stroke. It was vintage Sorenstam, winning with a birdie putt on No. 18.
With nerves of steel, stone-faced and arguably the strongest and most fit player on tour, Sorenstam could be the most accomplished golfer in the world, what with 16 LPGA wins alone in two years. After accepting her $150,000 paycheck, Sorenstam has $2.21 million in season earnings Ñ more than $1 million ahead of top challenger Se Ri Pak. In other words, call Sorenstam the player of the year for the fifth time.
Pak was one of only four players in the top 30 to bypass Portland. Most of the U.S. Solheim Cup team played, then flew out Monday for the event in Edina, Minn., to face the Europeans led by É you guessed it, Sorenstam.
Sorenstam looks forward to the Solheim competition. 'You stand on the tee and you have 11 players you want to help,' she says. 'And it's fun with match play because we don't do that all year.'
Don't be surprised to see the Safeway Classic just as stocked with top players next year. Tentatively, the Samsung World Championship in Vallejo, Calif., and Longs Drugs tourney in Sacramento, Calif., will bracket Portland in September.
Maletis hopes the three-stop West Coast swing will lure stars such as Sorenstam, Pak, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster.