Mon, Mar 28, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Sorenstam secures five-shot lead over closest competitor

AP , RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIAAP, PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA

Annika Sorenstam shot a flawless 6-under 66 in the third round to take a commanding five-shot lead over Rosie Jones in the Nabisco Championship on Saturday and all but wrap up the first major of the year.

In Sorenstam's relentless quest to win both her first major of the year and enter the LPGA Tour record books once again with her fifth straight tournament win, she birdied four holes on the front nine and two on the back to shoot the lowest score of the week on the Mission Hills Country Club course.

There's 18 holes left to play on Sunday, but that figures to be a mere formality for the most dominant player in women's golf. Sorenstam doesn't give up leads easily, and no one in the field has shown they have the game to challenge her.

"Obviously I'm in great shape for tomorrow," Sorenstam said.

Jones, in her final year on tour, birdied the final hole to shoot a 71 and inch a shot closer, but the only other players closer than 10 shots off the lead were Kim Mi-hyun and Cristie Kerr at seven shots back.

But Jones is all too aware of the challenge that faces her in the final round.

"She's the last person you want to have a five-shot lead," Jones said.

About the only excitement left on the final day may be how artistically Sorenstam takes the traditional winner's jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green. She's likely to do well at that, too, because she's had practice by winning here twice in the last four years.

Sorenstam has improved every day, with an opening 70 followed by a second-round 69 before Saturday's 66. She's hitting the ball long, not making mistakes, and might be playing the best golf of her extraordinary career.

"This is probably as good golf as I've played on a consistent level for a long time," she said.

If Sorenstam wins today, she will tie the record set by Nancy Lopez in 1978 of winning five consecutive events she played in. Lopez was dominant in her time, too, but Sorenstam is accomplishing things that Lopez never dreamed about.

"Tomorrow I want to have a day like I did today," she said. "It was just a great day for me out there."

Playing in the final threesome with Jones and Kim, Sorenstam regularly drove the ball 60 yards past her competitors. While they were hitting fairway woods to the longer par-4s, she was hitting short irons.

Lee Westwood and Joe Durant would have gladly taken this situation at the start of the week -- tied for the lead in The Players Championship on Saturday after three days of golf's richest tournament.

What they want now is to be there at the start of next week.

When darkness fell over the TPC at Sawgrass, Westwood and Durant were in the clubhouse and atop the leaderboard with two rounds in the books, and not sure what Sunday would bring them other than a chance to sleep in.

The only other certainty: The Players Championship was going overtime for the third time in six years.

Another rain delay kept the second round from being completed, and the best hope was to finish on Monday.

Thirty players who thought they were going to resume the second round on Saturday morning instead had to erase their scores and start over so everyone could lift, clean and place their balls in the soggy fairways.

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