Annika Sorenstam gave it everything she had at the Firstar LPGA Classic in conjunction with the Children's Medical Center, and it almost wasn't enough. The Swede, who played flawless golf all three days, earned her 20th LPGA Tour victory after a 66 (-6) in the final round, which included three birdies on the last four holes to edge out a charging Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr by one stroke. Sorenstam's 197 (-19) total ties the LPGA record for a 54-hole winning score, set in 1991 by LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley at the Rail Charity Golf Classic.
"This feels great. I'm happy I could do it," said Sorenstam, who moves to second on the 2000 money list and Rolex Player of the Year standings behind Webb. "I looked at the scoreboard when I made the turn. I was two-under after nine holes and just barely hanging on. Everyone was making birdies out there. It really felt like I needed to birdie every hole to win."
Sorenstam came close. She began the day tied for a one-stroke lead with Brandie Burton. The Swede was "getting a bit anxious" after seven straight pars on the front nine, but made good on short birdie putts on the eighth and ninth holes. She pulled one stroke ahead of the field at 17-under-par with another birdie on 11. Meanwhile, Kerr was in the midst of tying her career-best round with five consecutive birdies on the back nine to go to 18-under-par. But Kerr could not convert a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th, so she had to wait at the scoring tent for the last two groups to finish.
Webb was recovering nicely from a two-stroke penalty that looked to put her out of contention all together. The Aussie, a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour already this season, was in the greenside bunker on the par-five, eighth hole in two. She attempted the 35-yard bunker shot and failed. The ball stayed in the trap, and Webb swiped her club through the sand "partially out of anger," but more as a practice swing. The practice shot cost her two-strokes for grounding her club in a hazard. Webb's next attempt out of the sand left her 12 feet from the hole, and she two-putted for six, which turned into an eight with the penalty.
"I took a step and said to Evan [Minster, her caddy], 'Did you see what I just did?' said Webb. "I don't think the gallery saw me, but there was an official right there, and I asked her if it was one or two shots. It was two."
Webb was down, but not out. She crawled back onto the leader board with birdies on 10, 11, 12 and 15. Playing in the second-to-last group, Webb was 16-under-par when she stood over her second shot on the 18th, 131 yards from the pin. She hit a nine iron and the ball rolled right into the cup for an eagle two. Webb received a standing ovation from the large gallery on 18 as she finished her round tied with Kerr at 18-under-par.
"It looked pretty good all the way," said Webb, who now leads the 2000 money list by $334,767 over Sorenstam. "I knew it had to go in for me to have a chance at the tournament. It was just one of those things."
But Sorenstam wasn't giving up. She had moved to 18-under-par with birdies on 15 and 16, then holed a 15-footer for birdie on the 17th hole to move to 19-under-par. The gallery gasped as Sorenstam's score was posted on the monster board on the 18th. The Swede two-putted for par on the final hole to end a fabulous day of golf at Country Club of the North.
"It was a wonderful finish," said Sorenstam, who won the Welch's/Circle K Championship in March with a four-day 19-under-par total. "It's nice to win where you feel like you've earned it. I made some great putts, especially on the last four holes. That's a real confidence-booster."
Kerr's tie for second place is a career-best finish, moving her from 41st to 23rd on the 2000 season money list.
"I thought if I shot 64 today, I would've blown everyone away," said Kerr. "But I'm not going to cry about it. This was a great week for me."