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Sorenstam takes on men again Skins Game features woman for first time in 20-year history

USA TODAY

Jerry Potter


November 28, 2003

The venue is different, the time of year is different, even the format is different. But one thing remains the same: Annika Sorenstam, the best female golfer in the world, is playing against the men this weekend.

This time it's the Skins Game, a made-for-TV event that has never had a woman compete since it began in 1983. The last time Sorenstam played against the men was in May in the Colonial. She became the first woman in 58 years to play a PGA Tour event.

She missed the cut, but the buildup to the event and the reaction during and after it has become a highlight to the golf season. So it would be fitting if Sorenstam, recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, surprised the three men -- defending champion Mark O'Meara, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples -- and won the Skins Game, which will be played at Trilogy Golf Club in LaQuinta, Calif.

''As long as she's U consistent, hits the E ball straight, keeps it in U play and makes birdies, she U could win,'' O'Meara says. I ''She can beat me, Phil I or Fred. If she does, I'm E not going to lose any sleep E over it. I'll shake her E hand and congratulate her.'' A

Annika I vs. the field: Sorenstam U won the LPGA money title and E Player of the Year award A for the sixth time. She A won six tournaments, including E two majors. U

Among the men, only I Couples won a PGA Tour event U this year. O'Meara failed A to finish in the PGA Tour's A top 125 in earnings for A the first time since he A turned pro in 1981. ''The U way I've played this year, I she's got a very good shot A (at beating me),'' he says. A

Annika I vs. the course: Trilogy is A a new venue, so none of A the players has competitive A experience on it. It will U play 7,113 yards to a par A 72. Colonial Country Club, E where Sorenstam played U in May, is 7,080 yards and I plays to a par 70. Skins U Game executives have made A adjustments to fit Sorenstam's E game, including not using I the back tee on the 14th U hole, a par 4 that will U play at 415 yards. A

She lead the LPGA I in driving distance at 269.7 U yards, but all three E men had a longer average on E the PGA Tour. Mickelson E averaged 306, Couples 283.4 E and O'Meara 277.5. I

''When you put Annika U on a golf course (that's E 7,113 yards), she's at U a disadvantage by having E to play long irons or fairway I woods into every par U 4,'' says Chuck Gerber, executive A vice president and E general manager of ESPN, A which produces the show. ''We're I not using the back A tee because I wanted to limit U the times she had a fairway U wood in her hands on E the second shot.'' I

Sorenstam says she'll U stick to her game. ''Of U course I'd like to hit I the ball 20 yards farther,'' U she says, ''but I can't U do it. My strategy is to E try to keep the ball in the E fairway. I know I can make U birdies.'' A

Says Couples, ''She's probably U as good with a 6-iron A as I am with an 8- or U a 9-iron.''

Annika E vs. the format: In U skins competition, a player U has to win the hole outright E to win the money. Holes E that are tied, even by U just two players, carry over. A Sorenstam does not have A to play well on every hole E to be successful. A double U bogey on the first hole U has little bearing on the A next 17 holes. U

''It's a type of gambling E format,'' she says, E ''and I might have a bigger E chance.''

A I competitive showing by A Sorenstam during Saturday's A first nine holes could E set up a TV ratings bonanza E for Sunday's final, a concept I not lost on Gerber. I ''From my perspective,'' he I says, ''that's why I'm in E it.''

It U may be Sorenstam's last competition U against male golfers. A She says she won't play A another PGA Tour event. A But if she wins the Skins U Game, she earns an invitation A to return in 2004. A

To see more I of USAToday.com, or to subscribe, E go to http://www.usatoday.com

© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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