Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Annika Sorenstam only takes on three men in Skins Game

AP , LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA

Annika Sorenstam is going against three men this time -- not an entire PGA field -- in the conclusion of what she calls the best year of her Hall of Fame career.

She faces Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and defending champion Mark O'Meara in the US$1 million Skins Game this weekend.

Sorenstam is the first woman to play in the 21-year history of the 18-hole, made-for-television event. But it's a far cry from the media spectacle her appearance created at The Colonial in May, when she became the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour.

"This is a little bit more relaxed atmosphere, obviously," Sorenstam said Friday. "I mean, The Colonial took me by surprise. I didn't really expect all that attention. But I learned so much that week. Here, I just want to play my best."

All three of her male opponents were effusive in their praise of Sorenstam, none more so than Mickelson.

"I'd like to see her play five, six, seven events on the men's tour, and really give it a shot, rather than just one tournament," he said. ``In one tournament, it's kind of hard to know where you stack up. I know that's not what her intentions are, but that's too bad, because I think it would be really great for golf in general.''

No thanks, Sorenstam said.

"Maybe if I was here to compare with them, I would need to play many tournaments, but that's not what I'm trying to do," she said.

"These guys are so much better. I want to play on my tour. I want to win tournaments. I want to be in contention on Sunday and break records, and I know I have a tour to do that.''

After four years at the Landmark Golf Club, the Skins Game was moved this year to the Trilogy Golf Club, which opened in February, and the wide-open, par-72, 7,113m layout should provide plenty of opportunities for birdies and more than a few eagles.

Sorenstam played all 18 holes in a practice round Thursday.

"I could reach three of the par 5's in two," she said. "I know these guys will hit shorter irons than I will, but I might have an eagle putt and I might have a chance."

Holes one through six are worth US$25,000 each, seven through 12 US$50,000 apiece, 13 through 17 US$70,000 each, with the 18th a "Super Skin" worth US$200,000.

If no one wins a skin on a hole, the money is added to the following hole. The golfers give 20 percent of their earnings to charity.

The first nine holes will be played Saturday, and the final nine Sunday.

O'Meara won eight skins, and US$405,000 last year. Mickelson played poorly through most of the 2002 event, but knocked in a two-foot birdie putt on the 18th for the US$200,000 prize and wound up second with a total of US$300,000.

Couples, playing in his 10th Skins Game, has won US$2.27 million in the event, including US$170,000 for finishing third last year. Tiger Woods has had little success in his four Skins Game appearances -- finishing last a year ago -- and opted out of this year's event.

O'Meara said long drives are not mandatory to success in a skins format.

"Last year I think I made nine birdies in the Skins Game, but I didn't hit it farther than Fred or Tiger or Phil," O'Meara said.

"But if you hit the right shot at the right time, the right putt at the right time, it can happen."

Sorenstam warmed up for this weekend's competition two weeks ago at the Tiger Skins tournament in Singapore, where the competition was Retief Goosen, Jesper Parnevik and a local pro. Goosen won the event with US$130,000. Sorenstam won five skins and US$35,000 and had the lowest overall score at 9-under.

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