Thursday, April 17, 2003

Fan support soothes Masters runner-up

Mattiace confident heading into MCI Heritage

The Associated Press

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - Len Mattiace gained plenty of admirers with his emotional runner-up finish at the Masters.

Mattiace lost to Mike Weir on the first hole of a playoff at Augusta National Sunday, then broke down in tears as he discussed his final round.

The mix of feelings was touching for fans accustomed to seemingly emotionless players.

"People came up to me and said, 'You know, the feelings that you showed after the round were really genuine and very warm. I can relate to that,' " Mattiace said Wednesday as he prepared for the MCI Heritage. "I didn't really know what I was doing. It just all came out."

Mattiace, playing in his first Masters since 1988, charged into the lead with a brilliant 65 in the final round as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were fading.

Mattiace made bogey on the 18th and finished tied with Weir. On the first hole of the playoff, Mattiace hit an awful second shot and finished with a double-bogey while Weir won the green jacket with a tap-in bogey.

Mattiace is one of the few top finishers at Augusta to be playing this week at Harbour Town Golf Links. Woods and Mickelson are not in the field.

Mattiace, a two-time winner last year with victories at the Nissan Open and FedEx St. Jude Classic, isn't feeling any pressure to prove his final round at the first major of the year was no fluke.

"I feel confident right now that I have rounds like that in me under the utmost pressure," he said.

LPGA: Annika Sorenstam is returning to the LPGA Tour after a week off, rested and ready to do what she does best - win golf tournaments.

Sorenstam will open defense of her title at the Takefuji Classic in Las Vegas today following a week that included rest and a chance to see herself profiled on 60 Minutes.

She's coming off her first win of the season in Los Angeles and again is answering questions about her decision to play against men in the Colonial next month.

"Right now, the Colonial is in the back of my mind," Sorenstam said. "Right now, it is this week and that next two weeks that I'm going to play. I have a pretty good idea about what I need to do at the Colonial."

Sorenstam said after winning in Los Angeles that she was mentally drained despite playing in just three tournaments this year. She has been under the pressure of not only trying to match 11 wins from last year but also preparing to compete against PGA Tour players.

It's no different this week, though almost everything else has changed about this tournament.

Sorenstam won the 54-hole event last year when it was the season-opening tournament and was held in Hawaii. It moved to Las Vegas this year, where the women will play at a Las Vegas Country Club course not many of them have seen.

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