Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Sorenstam could join men in Colonial

The Associated Press

A tournament made famous by Ben Hogan and steeped in tradition on the PGA Tour could be in for a real twist: Annika Sorenstam is negotiating to play in the Colonial May 19-25. Tournament director Dee Finely said Tuesday her agent has inquired about giving one of the 12 sponsor's exemptions to Sorenstam. That would make her the first woman to play on the PGA Tour since 1945 - the year before Colonial began.

"We have been contacted by Mark Steinberg (at IMG)," Finley said. "It's interesting, and something for us to consider."

He declined comment on the negotiations until "we have something to announce," which could be as early as Wednesday.

Steinberg, who is also the agent for Tiger Woods, declined comment when reached at his hotel in San Diego.

No one has won more golf tournaments than Sorenstam over the last two seasons, Woods included. Last year alone, she shattered the LPGA Tour scoring record and won 13 times around the world, the most by anyone in nearly 40 years.

Now, she wants to take on the men.

Sorenstam said last month she would say "yes in a heartbeat" if a PGA Tour event offered her an exemption.

"I would love to play," she said. "I have nothing to lose. It's a great challenge."

The last time a female played a PGA Tour event, Babe Zaharias qualified for the 1945 Los Angeles Open and made the 36-hole cut before a 79 knocked her out of the final round.

The Colonial made its debut the following year, and it soon became known as "Hogan's Alley." He won the first of his five titles in 1946, and made the Fort Worth, Texas, club his home course during the peak of his career.

No course has hosted a PGA Tour event longer than Colonial.

Bank of America recently signed up as the title sponsor and is believed to be interested in having Sorenstam in the field.

Sorenstam's main stipulation about playing on the PGA Tour is to compete on a course that does not require power off the tee. Colonial is 7,080 yards (par 70) and puts a premium on accuracy off the tee and being able to move the ball in both directions.

"Even if she plays Colonial, it would have to play hard and fast," Woods said Tuesday, suggesting that Sorenstam would need a lot of roll to compensate for her lack of power.

PGA Tour players have been mostly supportive of her playing, although some doubt whether she could compete.

Still, the Colonial has one of the smallest fields on tour - 114 to 120 players, while most PGA Tour events have 132 to as many as 156 players. There could be a backlash if it was perceived Sorenstam was taking away a spot in a small field.

"That would be something we would consider very, very seriously in making an offer to her," Finley said. "We do have a number of players that don't yet qualify for our field that have requested sponsor's exemptions."

That was the reason Finley cited last week in suggesting there might not be room for Sorenstam to play in the Colonial this year.

What changed?

"Following those conversations, we got a call from Mr. Steinberg," he said.

Jose Maria Olazabal said he didn't see anything wrong with Sorenstam trying to qualify for the Colonial.

"I don't see a controversy and don't want to make a big deal about it," he said. "If she makes it, we'll have to see how she plays and how she does."

Woods played with Sorenstam against David Duval and Karrie Webb in the "Battle at Bighorn" two years ago, and it turned into a fiasco at the end when neither of the women could hit the 18th fairway in regulation or the playoff.

Woods has said Sorenstam should consider playing more than one PGA Tour event to give herself a chance.

"If she plays well, then obviously it will be an overwhelming success," he said. "But the downside would be pretty great as well."

If Sorenstam plays in the Colonial, she would overshadow Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley, who has said she will play in the Greater Hartford Open in July. Whaley qualified by winning a PGA of America sectional tournament, even though she was allowed to hit from a shorter set of tees.

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