COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Part of the beauty of sports is the way it revisits the past while moving forward. The record book is a roadmap through time that makes bygone events and players from previous eras return to the competitive stage as they are measured against contemporary athletes. This week at the Broadmoor Golf Club in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains will be such a trip through time.
Here, in 1995, Annika Sorenstam won the first of her 72 LPGA tournaments, 10 major championships and three U.S. Women's Open titles. It was a shocking upset by the shy, short-hitting, 24-year-old Swede who finished one stroke in front of Meg Mallon and two clear of Betsy King and Pat Bradley -- all of whom were already multiple-major winners and among the most intimidating forces on tour.
Yani Tseng has a chance to complete the career grand slam this week.
The under-the-radar Sorenstam got a lot of help in the final round as Mallon closed with a 74 to Annika's 68, and few would have predicted at the time that it was the beginning of a career that would wind up enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Yani Tseng, however, does not come into this year's U.S. Women's Open obscured by the cloud of modest expectations. She has already set the bar high.
At the age of 22, the long-hitter from Taiwan has emerged as not only No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings but also as the player most capable of holding that spot for a long time, as both Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa did before her. While Sorenstam came into the Broadmoor with the modest hopes of one day being able to win just once on tour, Tseng goes to Colorado looking to rewrite an LPGA record book littered with the word "Sorenstam."(Related: Relive Annika Sorenstam's remarkable career)
If Tseng is the one hoisting the trophy Sunday night, she will have become the seventh woman to complete the career Grand Slam and the youngest ever, male or female. Tiger Woods was 24 when he accomplished the feat in 2000; and Sorenstam did not finish it off until she was 32 at the 2003 Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Karrie Webb was 26 when she completed the career Grand Slam in 2001 -- and 27 when she made it a Super Slam by adding the Women's British Open the next year to a resume that already included the Kraft Nabisco Championship, LPGA Championship, U.S. Women's Open and the now defunct major, the DuMaurier Championship.
A victory would also give Tseng five major championships -- two years before Sorenstam got her first -- and would take her to 15 LPGA Hall of Fame points, well past the halfway mark of the 27 needed to earn entry into the most difficult of all Halls of Fame. No one has felt like such a clear favorite going into an LPGA major since Sorenstam was winning eight in six in years beginning in 2001.(Related: Tseng and McIlroy share more than just age)
Tseng has won three of the last six majors and in 14 tries since joining the tour in 2008 has four wins and two seconds. She also comes into the Broadmoor off two consecutive tour wins -- the State Farm Classic and the Wegmans LPGA Championship -- and in her last 10 rounds, beginning with the second round of the ShopRite Championship, has a staggering stroke average of 66.9. In 10 LPGA starts this year, Tseng has eight top-10 finishes and has won three times overseas.
But while Tseng enters the Open as the clear favorite, she is far from unchallenged, which makes her recent run of success all the more remarkable. The six players immediately behind her at the LPGA Championship were Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis and Meena Lee. Except for Lee, all are major championship winners.
In the last six majors, it has been Tseng against the Americans, with Yani winning three while Lewis, Creamer and Kerr picked off the other three. Creamer is the defending champion in this event, winning by four strokes at Oakmont CC last year with a dominating 69 on Sunday that left her as the only player in red numbers with a three-under-par total of 281. Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi tied for second and Tseng was T-10 at 290.
At 6,000 feet above sea level, The Broadmoor East Course will play at a U.S. Women's Open-record 7,047 yards, which should favor long hitters like Brittany Lincicome, Michelle Wie and Tseng, who are Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in driving distance on tour.
But, being a USGA set-up, it will also require keeping the tee ball out of the rough, and Creamer does that well, hitting 80.1 percent of the fairways, compared to 70.6 percent for Tseng. Ai Miyazato, Jiyai Shin and Lee also have the kind of accuracy off the tee that could put them on the leader board.
Winning a U.S. Open also requires steely putting nerves with Tseng (No. 3) and Kerr (No. 6) among the leaders in putts per greens in regulation. Wie is No. 54 and missed the cut last year at Oakmont with rounds of 82-76 when she could not handle the slick greens. Shin and Lee also have the solid putters to contend here.
Among those capable of being surprises are 16-year-old Alexis Thompson, who finished T-10 at Oakmont, and second-year player Azahara Munoz, the Arizona State University product from Spain. She was T-8 in the LPGA Championship and was in the top 20 in the three LPGA majors she played last year, including a T-19 at Oakmont. The leading rookie on tour this year is Hee-Kyung Seo, who earned her tour card with a victory at the Kia Classic last year and has 11 wins on the Korea LPGA.
Two years ago, Sorenstam, who is the honorary chairperson of this year's U.S. Women's Open, sold her house at Lake Nona in Orlando to Tseng and three years ago predicted that within four years, Yani would be the best player in the world. That seems to already be the case. Now we will see if on Sunday Tseng picks up a piece of history in the form of the U.S. Open trophy at the same place it all started for Sorenstam -- a symbolic passing of the baton.
-- Ron Sirak