Superstar is ready to move on Ñ and so are her LPGA rivals

WILMINGTON, Del. It's all Annika all the time on the LPGA Tour these days.

Even two weeks after her attention-grabbing PGA Tour appearance in the Colonial tourney, Annika Sorenstam still fields question after nauseating question about it, and she dutifully answers them as the star of all women golfers.

'I would like to see you guys every week,' she says to the media here for the LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club a veiled reference to hopes that future women's golf coverage will be more than an Annika freak show.

Sorenstam's rivals seem to feel the same way.

'It's not easy when reporters say, 'Can we interview you?' and 99 percent of the questions are about Annika,' veteran Juli Inkster says.

Se Ri Pak, who predicts she'll be as accomplished as Sorenstam some day, chips in that the tour is 'kind of a little boring, because it's always Annika, Annika, Annika. Looks like Se Ri got lost a little bit. I'm trying to play as well as I can and work out as well as I can, and probably I'm going to be soon like Annika, so I just kind of wait a little bit.'

Sorenstam's PGA Tour appearance was great publicity for the women's tour, great exposure for her sponsors, a great challenge for her and unrealized ammunition for feminists.

Clearly, she wants to make her two rounds at the Colonial old news.

'I've done it, this is my tour, this is where I want to play,' she says of the LPGA.

Sorenstam's next challenge will be the women's majors, including the LPGA Championship this weekend and the U.S. Women's Open, July 3-6, at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains.

Lest anyone forget, Sorenstam has won only four majors in 33 starts, while Karrie Webb has won six in 28 starts and Pak four in 20 starts.

'Annika has set her standards higher, to play well in majors,' says Webb, winless in 2003.

Sorenstam finished second to France's Patricia Meunier-Lebouc in the first major of the year, the Nabisco Championship in late March, and she has finished third or better in four of the past five majors.

Sorenstam has 44 career wins and will qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame at the end of this, her 10th season on tour. She wants to reach 50 wins before she retires. At age 32, she doesn't envision playing full time into her 40s. She plans to retire at her peak, to have children and slow down.

For now, though, get used to more of Annika all the time. LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw wanted to make Sorenstam the tour's version of Tiger Woods, and he'll continue to push that agenda.

Webb gets ready

Webb, 28, followed Sorenstam's lead and developed a fitness regimen in the offseason. The result: an ordinary season, so far, with zero wins and only one second in eight starts. But Webb's 69.33 scoring average in 29 rounds ranks second to Sorenstam's 68.81 in 21.

Webb always looks forward to the majors.

'The four courses we play are the toughest tests, and my game has gravitated toward those courses,' the Australian pro says. 'At first, my game was geared toward birdie binges. Now I tend to play better on the harder courses. I don't have to shoot 63-64 just to be in contention. I don't have to be overly aggressive.'

Webb won the Open in 2000 and 2001 but missed the cut last year. She placed fourth when the Open was held at Pumpkin Ridge in 1997.

'The fairways were fairly generous,' she says.

And the 'closely mowed' areas near the greens, she adds, give the players more trouble than bunkers. 'They're more penal,' she says. 'A not-so-bad shot can be penalized.'

Notes: Nancy Lopez hasn't decided whether she will try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. In 1997, she finished second to Alison Nicholas at Pumpkin Ridge. Lopez, 46, doesn't know if she wants to put her sore knees through 36 holes of walking in a June 11 sectional qualifier in Houston. É Nicholas will travel to the Open from her native England for one of six LPGA events that she plans to compete in this year. A neck injury has forced Nicholas to play a limited schedule. É Beth Bauer, last year's rookie of the year, has struggled in her second season, finishing no higher than 30th, missing the cut five times in 10 starts and earning just $22,184. É Suzy Whaley, a club pro who plans to play in the PGA's Greater Hartford Open in late July, will get a tuneup this week in Delaware. She is represented by Peter Jacobsen Productions Inc.

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