Kingsmill course draws LPGA’s finest

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – Annika Sorenstam figures she’ll have to be at her best to have a chance to win the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill.

Winless in four starts after opening the season with a victory in the MasterCard Classic in Mexico, the No. 1-ranked Sorenstam tops the field that includes the top 50 players on the money list.

“I like the position I’m in,” Sorenstam said Wednesday, a day before the start of play in the 72-hole tournament. “It does get tougher and tougher because the competition gets better every year and I also have to find different ways to get better myself. When you’re chasing somebody, then you can see it. But when you’re up in front, you have to kind of find your own little vision of where you’re going.”

Sorenstam is coming off a fourth-place finish two weeks ago in the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open, her third straight top-six effort. She has 67 career LPGA Tour victories, 21 short of Kathy Whitworth’s record.

“The last month I’ve hit it good, but just haven’t been able to make anything and really not scramble,” Sorenstam said. “Got to get rid of the bogeys.”

Since winning in Mexico in her first tour start of the year, Sorenstam said her game has been off. “A mix,” she said, “with some good shots and bad shots.”

She also has struggled on the greens in the past, especially a year ago when they were new, but arrived this week to find them to be in their best condition yet.

“I’m just going to go out there and read them the way I normally do, and let’s hope that it’s the right way,” she said.

The Michelob Ultra Open has a purse of $2.2 million, the second biggest on tour, and has attracted all of the top 50 money winners for the first time in its history.

The only name missing is that of phenom Michelle Wie, who made the cut in a men’s event last week in South Korea but is playing only a limited LPGA schedule.

Still, there’s plenty of star power set to tee it up starting Thursday.

“This is a big event for many reasons,” Sorenstam said. “I mean, player-wise, the top 50, I’m sure they are all here. Tough golf course. This is a first-class event. You see it with all of the bleachers, you see the way the golf course is set up.

“It makes you feel like it’s a little bit of a major.”

Cristie Kerr wishes it was. She won last year by five shots, ending Sorenstam’s much-heralded bid for a sixth consecutive victory, and arrives having won last week in Franklin, Tenn., even though she wasn’t hitting the ball as well as she likes.

But the 6,306-yard River Course clearly suits her game, and psyche.

“I walk around the grounds here and I just feel magic,” Kerr said after a practice round. “I feel special vibes. … Maybe it’s just the overall feel of the tournament and the competition, the course, everything that goes into that.

“I’ve just always had really good feelings when I’ve come here.”

And it never hurts to show up anywhere coming off a victory.

“It’s definitely a great confidence boost for me to win last week. I felt like I’ve been playing well all year and it just had not really come together,” she said.

Another player who seems ready to win here is Lorena Ochoa, the tour’s leading money-winner. She’s already won once and finished second four times, and tied Julie Inkster for second here two years ago after starting the final round as the leader.

Rather than being a disappointed runner-up, though, she said she uses the close calls to affirm that what she is doing is working and that results will follow.

“I do the same every week, just be very positive and do my same routine,” she said. “I am going to keep trying and I think the more I try then the more that will come.”

Before Kerr coasted to victory last year, the Michelob Ultra Open had a history of drama. Grace Park won the first one in 2003 by making a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win, and Se Ri Pak closed with a 6-under 65 in 2004 to not only win, but also to qualify on points for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

AP-ES-05-10-06 2015EDT

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