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2003 LPGA Tour Year In Review

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The year of the woman playing on the men's tour has come to a close as the debate rages as to whether the trend should continue. Those women who did play against the men learned a lot, but did not fare well. The first of those women made the most news, as usual. PLAYER OF THE YEAR

For the second straight year, there really wasn't a question as to who was the top player in the women's game. was the top story of the year from beginning to end. She began the year playing in a Skins Game, teed it up against the men of the PGA and ended the year in a men's skins game, where she finished second.

In between, she wowed the golf world with a solid showing at the Colonial, as well as winning a pair of majors on the LPGA Tour and finishing in the top-10 in 15 of her 17 LPGA Tour starts. The Swede capped her season with two wins in her last four starts.

Sorenstam motored out of the gate this season with third and second place finishes in her first two starts, before garnering her first win at the Office Depot. The second place finish came at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Prior to the PGA Tour's Colonial, she posted two more top-six finishes. Then, the final week of May, Sorenstam made the Colonial her event, even though she missed the cut.

Overwhelmed by media scrutiny and coverage, Sorenstam managed to stay focused despite the fact that every shot of her first round was broadcast on national television. Not that she hasn't been on TV before, but this time it seemed the weight of the world was upon her shoulders.

After knocking her first tee shot in the fairway, Sorenstam played the crowd as she faked being crushed by the pressure. She went on to post a one-over 71 in the opening round before missing the cut by four strokes. She carded two birdies and seven bogeys, but stats were not the story.

The real story was how she performed under the intense pressure. She played well, smiled the entire time and let loose plenty of emotion in her first round press conference. She cried tears of relief that she had just done something that no woman had done in over 40 years.

After missing the cut, Sorenstam had time to reflect on her historical performance, but not a lot as she was slated to play the following weekend in Illinois. Not to matter, she returned to the LPGA Tour for the Kellogg-Keebler Classic and cruised to her second title of the year after an opening-round 62, which broke her own course record by one stroke.

Sorenstam was far from finished too. The following week was the second major of the season for the women, the McDonald's LPGA Championship. and Sorenstam were the only players under par for the event. Park closed with a five-under 67 to get to minus-six and force a playoff. Sorenstam won on the first extra hole when Park failed to save par.

The top player in the women's game slowed down with her two worst performances over her next four events. She stumbled all the way to ties for 14th and 17th, but in between managed to finish fourth at the U.S. Women's Open. This was her worst showing at a major on the year.

With her win at the McDonald's, Sorenstam needed to win the Women's British Open to become the sixth player in LPGA Tour history to complete the career grand slam. Mission accomplished.

After her 17th place finish at the Evian Masters, Sorenstam held off to win the Women's British Open and complete the career grand slam. It also marked a big turn around. She had missed the cut at the 2002 Women's British Open.

The remainder of season the only battle Sorenstam needed to settle, officially anyway, was the battle for LPGA Tour player of the year. She was battling Pak for that award. Pak had a great year of her own with 20 top-10s in 26 starts.

Sorenstam wrapped that award up with wins at the Safeway Classic and the Mizuno Classic, where she won by nine strokes. She was unable to close out the year with a win at the season-ending ADT Championship as she bogeyed the last, but no matter.

The 33-year-old will look back on this season with fondness. Among other things, she completed the career grand slam, played in a PGA Tour event and went 4-1 as her European team reclaimed the Solheim Cup.

Not only did she accomplish all these feats, but she also was formally inducted into the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame in October. Since joining the tour in 1994, Sorenstam has rung up an incredible 48 victories.

Sorenstam will be hard-pressed to top the 17 LPGA Tour wins she has claimed over the past two seasons, but I for one wouldn't bet against her.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

With a strong class of rookies, one of the quieter, but more qualified players moved to the head of the class. Lorena Ochoa, from Mexico, was unable to pick up her first tour win but did manage eight top-10s in 24 starts.

Ochoa qualified for the 2003 season as the leading money winner on the 2002 Futures Tour. She finished third at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. After a pair of struggles, she notched back-to-back top- three finishes to give her four top-10s in her first six events.

The 22-year-old shared 20th at the McDonald's Championship, the tour's second major. She came back with a second-place showing at the Wegmans Rochester LPGA.

The season's third major saw Ochoa struggle to a closing-round 74 which dropped her into a share of 13th. With the rest of the tour, she headed overseas, and played well to tie for third at the Evian Masters.

The following week was the final major, the Women's British Open. Ochoa posted a second-round 65 to get to five-under and a tie for fourth place. However, she closed with rounds of 77 and 74 to finish in a tie for 24th, 12 shots behind .

Ochoa hit a midseason lull as her best finish in her next four events was a tie for 15th. She turned it around at the Longs Drugs Challenge where she finished in a tie for seventh. In the final four events after that, she ended between 10th and 21st.

Her tie for seventh at the Longs Drugs clinched the 2003 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award. Her closest competitors in a good year for rookies were Young Kim and Suzann Pettersen.

WOMEN AGAINST THE MEN

Entering the year, all eyes seemed to be focused on Suzy Whaley, who had qualified for the PGA Tour's Greater Hartford Open in a local qualifier. As we all know, stole that spotlight and took the pressure off Whaley.

Sorenstam played well under the pressure, but Whaley struggled. She could only manage to shoot 13-over-par in the first two rounds to miss the cut and finish near the bottom of the field.

Several others followed their lead. Teenage phenom Michelle Wie teed it up on the Nationwide Tour and the Canadian Tour, missing the cut in both events.

Jan Stephenson competed in a Champions Tour event in Hawaii and did something none of these other women did. She made the cut, sort of. The Turtle Bay Championship did not have a cut, so Stephenson was the only one of these women to earn money.

As the year wound to a close, , Sophie Gustafson and a few others tried their hands at competing in men's events worldwide. Pak by far had the greatest success as she finished 10th in the Korean Tour's SBS Super Tournament.

Sorenstam capped her stellar campaign at the Skins Game, becoming the first woman to play in the 21st annual contest. The Swede played well tying for the second-most skins and earning the second-most money.

The debate whether women should be able to play in men's events will rage on, but these women made the most of their chances to show off their talents.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR

It is hard to imagine that a tournament had more drama than the 2003 U.S. Women's Open. The tour's top player, , bogeyed the 72nd hole of the tournament to miss an 18-hole playoff by one stroke.

On the flip side, Angela Stanford ran home a lengthy birdie putt at the same hole to secure a spot in the playoff alongside Kelly Robbins and the unheralded Hilary Lunke.

The three women finished tied at one-under-par 283 after 72 holes and returned to the course Monday morning for the first 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Women's Open since 1998 and the first three-way playoff since 1987.

Much like the end of regulation, the playoff would all boil down to who played the par-five closing hole best. Robbins was unable to recover from a double- bogey at the 13th but her two playing partners dueled to the bitter end.

The end would be bittersweet too. Lunke led Stanford by one heading to the closing hole and after they both found the fairway off the tee, Lunke laid up in the fairway while Stanford's second finished in the left rough.

Stanford managed to hack her third shot to the front edge of the green before Lunke dropped her third within 12 feet of the cup. For the second straight day, magic struck for Stanford as she drained a lengthy putt to tie Lunke.

However, Lunke would convert her birdie putt to become the 26th player on the LPGA Tour to make her first tour win a major. She overcame an 80 in her opening round of qualifying for the event to become the first woman to win this title as a qualifier.

GOOD YEAR

As previously mentioned, had a great year by most standards. She won three times, finished second six times and had 20 top-10s in 26 starts. She also won the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average on tour but was overwhelmed by Sorenstam.

followed Pak's lead with a strong showing of her own. She finished in the top-10 19 times in 26 starts, managed just one victory and finished third on the money list.

Twenty-two-year-old Candie Kung matched Pak with three victories in the 2003 campaign. Kung responded from missing the cut at the Jamie Farr Classic by posting back-to-back wins at the Wachovia LPGA Classic and the State Farm Classic. If not for 's dominating performance at the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic, Kung would have had a shot at three in a row. She finished in a tie for second, nine shots behind Webb.

Michelle Wie began the year with a bang. She finished tied for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season's first major, while playing in the final group with and eventual winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.

Later in the season, Wie won the U.S. Amateur Pub-Links title for her first national title of any kind. At the age of 13, Wie became the youngest champion in the 108-year history of United States Golf Association adult championships.

BAD YEAR

Michelle McGann has not won on the tour since earning two titles in the 1997 season and this year fell all the way to 142nd on the money list. She made just six cuts in 21 tries.

Val Skinner, a six-time winner on the LPGA Tour, made only two of 17 cuts on the year and slid to 187th on the money list.

Another former winner also struggled this season. Gail Graham owns two tour titles, but that is one more than cuts she made this season. She struggled to make just one cut in 18 events this season.

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