Annika Tees Up History

Golfer Annika Sorenstam watches her ball after hitting her driver on the Par-3, 246-yard 4th hole of the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday, May 21, 2003. Sorenstam, of Sweden, was short on her drive but she chipped in for birdie. She was competing in Wednesday's pro-am. AP

Annika Sorenstam, the first female golfer to contest a PGA tour event since World War II, faces 18 holes and history Thursday as she tees off at the Bank of America Colonial.

"I can't prepare any more," said Sorenstam, given a 500-1 chance to win by Las Vegas oddsmakers. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time. I've been practicing a lot the last few months and I want the day to come. It's here. So whatever happens, happens."

After years of dreaming and three months of hype, Sorenstam is ready to find out how she scores and how she copes with all the attention of being the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the tour.

Sorenstam, the No. 1 female player in the world, starts at the 10th tee Thursday with PGA Tour rookies Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber. They will be the most-watched group at tradition-rich Colonial.

Sorenstam will be under more scrutiny than any player since Tiger Woods made his pro debut in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open.

And for the first time in years, Sorenstam is playing in a tournament she is not expecting to win. The 32-year-old Swede said she would be "so pleased" to shoot par.

Sorenstam isn't trying to prove she can beat the boys. She isn't suggesting that the LPGA Tour, where she has won 43 times and four majors, is no longer a challenge.

What a sponsor's exemption in the Bank of America Colonial is allowing her to do is find out how her game stacks up against the best in the world. She said a week on the PGA Tour will satisfy her curiosity.

Her immediate goal might be to make "the cut" — the list of players who do well enough in the first two days of competition to play into the weekend.

If she succeeds, says CBS Sports golf analyst David Feherty, "that will be the most remarkable achievement I think in golf this year."

"This is like putting a woman out there in the NFL or in the NBA against the men," Feherty said. "Golfers are too big, they're too strong, they have too many physiological differences, too many advantages over a woman. And it's extremely difficult for her to come out here and compete."

The 7,080-yard layout is a longer, tougher course than any she has played in competition. But two days of rain might have provided a break, making the normally crusty and firm greens more forgiving, allowing her to aim at the flag with long irons and her 7-wood.

"It means she's going to be hitting driver and 3 wood on the holes where men are going to be hitting 2 and 3 iron. So she'll be hitting her second shots from a similar distance from the green. And if the golf course plays softer it gives her a better chance to hold the greens," Feherty told the CBS News Early Show.

Her final practice round on the par-70 course ended on the 11th fairway Wednesday when the pro-am was called because of steady rain. She was at least 1-over par, having picked up her ball on a couple of holes.

"I worked a little on my swing and I was more calm," she said. "I hit some good shots. I love the golf course."

Golfer Jay Haas said Sorenstam's debut "might be bigger" than Woods' first pro event.

"Was Tiger's debut spread across the front page of the newspaper?" Haas said. "But it's certainly different. Everyone was talking about Tiger dominating the tour, and they don't think Annika is going to come out here and do that."

While Sorenstam is making history, Nick Price will try to defend his only PGA Tour win since 1998.

"I think I've answered enough questions about Annika the last three months," Price said. "Every one knows what my feelings are on that."

Price, 46, one of the more gracious players in the game, has said Sorenstam's appearance "reeks of publicity." And he said five-time Colonial champion Ben Hogan would roll in his grave if he knew what was happening.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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