Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Sorenstam puts PGA Tour rookies in the limelight

SHARING THE STAGE The two men who will tee off with the No. 1 female player appear to hold none of the animosity toward her that some others have expressed

AP , FORT WORTH, TEXAS

Dean Wilson is a journeyman who has spent most of his career on the Japanese Tour. Aaron Barber is an eight-year pro who didn't earn his first PGA Tour check until two months ago.

They will be in the most-watched group at the Colonial. And not because of anything they've done.

They're Annika Sorenstam's playing partners for the first two rounds at Colonial Country Club, where she will become the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour.

"It's a unique experience to be able to play with her in a tournament atmosphere like this," said Wilson, who wore a "Go Annika" button he bought for US$3 at Colonial's pro shop.

Wilson and Barber look forward to competing with the world's No. 1 female player. The PGA Tour rookies insist they're not concerned about the extra attention from reporters and fans, or the chance Sorenstam could post better scores.

"Anybody can beat me when I play bad," Wilson said.

Barber added: "She is going to beat some people, there's no doubt. I'm worried about 113 people beating me every week."

Their names were selected randomly by a computer. Like Sorenstam, Wilson and Barber were drawn out of the category of players who haven't won or finished in the top 125 on the money list.

Wilson and Barber, on tour after finally earning their cards through qualifying school last fall, met Sorenstam for the first time Tuesday. They were leaving their news conference as she was entering the same crowded interview room for hers.

They'll play together today, when they start on the 10th tee, the last morning trio on the course.

"She will probably feel more pressure," Barber said. "After all, the spotlight's on her. I was surprised that we even had to do a press conference. We're just the two guys playing with her."

Barber got into the tournament the same way as Sorenstam, on a sponsor's exemption.

Some PGA Tour players have criticized Sorenstam's decision to play. Defending Colonial champ Nick Price called her appearance a publicity stunt.

Barber and Wilson disagreed.

"She has every right to be in this tournament, and I'm all for her playing well," Wilson said.

Barber said Sorenstam has "earned this opportunity based on her resume."

"She's very dominant on the LPGA Tour, and I think it's a way for her to test herself at a higher level," he said.

Wilson, 33, won three times on the Japanese Tour in 2001, when he finished third on the money list. He had made only six PGA Tour starts before this season, and his best finish ever was two weeks ago: seventh in the Wachovia Championship.

Barber, 30, turned pro in 1996. His only top-10 finish was a tie for fourth in March in Tucson, which was played opposite a World Golf Championship event. That was also his first tour paycheck (US$132,000), and the first of three straight cuts he made before missing his last six.

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